Down In the Tremé…
15th October 2012 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
Treme 200 Bicentennial Festival 1812-2012 & The 25th Annual Mahalia Jackson Rejoicin’ in the Park Festival
The Stooges Brass Band gets a crowd rollin’ when they sing, “Sixth Ward, Seventh Ward, Eighth Ward, Ninth Ward, downtown…” That tune could stand as the anthem for this coming week in New Orleans. There’s a ton going on with most of the action centered around the Tremé, which until recent history, was usually referred to by its residents as the Sixth Ward, and Armstrong Park.
The very diverse schedule of events celebrating the Treme neighborhood’s 200th year, kicks off on Tuesday, October 16, with a 6 p.m. screening of Lolis Elie’s informative documentary, “Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans.” It will be shown in Perseverance Hall in Armstrong Park. It is the site where many of the panel discussions will be held throughout the event. Most of these seminars are being conveniently presented twice a day at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The festival, which runs through Sunday, October 21, and culminates with a Treme United Second Line boasting an array of social aid and pleasure clubs and brass band, offers educational aspects and just plain good times. A musical centerpiece of the six-day celebration takes place at Armstrong Park on Saturday, October 20. The Treme 200 Concert stage will present some New Orleans favs like trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, clarinetist Doreen Ketchens and trombonist Corey Henry playing music with its roots in the neighborhood.
Across the way, the Reverend Lois Dejean will celebrate the 25th anniversary of her gospel series, Rejoicin’ in the Park. Dejean, a much-respected mover and shaker in the New Orleans gospel community says she was glad to join forces with the bicentennial organizers and bring gospel music to the program.
“The church was the foundation of Treme before there was a second line group or a jazz group,” she says of its importance. “The church sang the music that kept that community together and then it started rising.
“What songs do they do at a funeral – ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus.’ Where did those songs come from — the church. I want to focus on that at the Rejoicin’ in the Park concert.”
Many of the same groups and choirs that performed at Rejoicin’ in the Park during its early years such as the Gospel Soul Children, the Watson Community Choir, the Crownseekers and others will be among the 20 artists at Saturday’s anniversary edition. On tap too, are Dejean’s ensembles, her family group, the Johnson Extension and the Youth Inspirational Connection.
Dejean remembers back to 1988 when there was a murder in Armstrong Park and the City planned to lock the gates because it was deemed unsafe.
“I said, ‘You’re not closing this park down. I’m going to come every year and show you that this park can be conducive to community activities.’ We didn’t have the Park and Parkways Commission so we had to clean the park ourselves. Nobody cared about that park.”
The spirit of gospel and jazz unite at the historic St. Augustine Church, the oldest African-American Catholic Parish in the United States. The Treme Brass Band and the church’s Soulful Voices choir will help celebrate the mass at 10 a.m. Sunday, October 21, 2012.
It is fitting that the image of the much-loved bass drummer and vocalist “Uncle” Lionel Batiste, who was born, raised and lived most of his life in the Treme, should be celebrated on the festival’s poster. Batiste, 81, died on July 8, 2012 but his spirit will remain eternal on the neighborhood streets where he happily enjoyed life and his people.
Stepping away from the “official” Treme 200 program, which can be explored in its entirety at www.treme200.com, there remains, as usual, a wealth of other musical happenings in the area this week that reflect ties to the neighborhood.
On Thursday, the People United for Armstrong Park continues its series, Jazz in the Park, with two artists that hold the Treme close to their hearts. At 5 p.m. the Treme Funktet that features trombonist Corey Henry and trumpeter Travis Hill get the music kicking at the event that has been receiving raves since it was introduced last spring. The soulful and dynamic vocalist John Boutte, who, of course penned the catchy “Down in the Treme” that became the theme song for the HBO series, “Treme,” takes the stage at 6:30 p.m. Beyond spending lovely evenings in Armstrong Park and the imaginative music bookings, people give the Jazz in the Park series a thumbs up for its welcoming community vibe.
If all that isn’t enough, the always-anticipated Black Men of Labor parade, which used to take place on Labor Day weekend, rolls instead on Saturday, October 20 beginning at 2:30 p.m. It starts at the club’s headquarters, Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club, 1931 St. Claude Avenue, and while traveling up North Rampart Street the second line goes directly past all the activities in Armstrong Park and heads into the Treme on Barracks. After four hours, the Black Men of Labor, which was established to keep traditional brass band music on the streets, disbands back at Sweet Lorraine’s.
This article was originally published in the October 15, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper