Head-Scratching Century-Old Rule Reversed in Birthplace of Jazz

School board in New Orleans lifts ban on teaching jazz
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 25, 2022 9:53 AM CDT
After 100 Years, Ban on Jazz Lifted in New Orleans Schools
Stock photo of a saxophonist,   (Getty Images/suteishi)

It's hard to imagine jazz music being banned in any US public schools, let alone schools in New Orleans, known as the birthplace of jazz. But there's actually a policy on the books in the Big Easy that prohibits students from learning about the genre or taking part in jazz dancing—or there was a policy. The Orleans Parish school board voted Thursday night to rescind the rule, exactly 100 years to the day it was put into place, reports Today. "It's like if Colorado passed a rule banning students from looking at the Rocky Mountains," Ken Ducote, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Collaborative of Charter Schools, told the AP of the policy, said to have been created with racist undertones.

According to a newspaper article from 1922 cited by NBC News, the policy was first put into place on March 24 of that year—oddly during a school board discussion about finances—after a motion put forward by a Mrs. Adolph Baumgartner. "Jazz music and jazz dancing in schools should be stopped at once," Baumgartner is said to have declared, adding that she had witnessed "a lot of rough dancing in school auditoriums lately," per the New Orleans Advocate. When another board member asked what exactly "jazz" entailed," a third board member replied, "I've only seen a little bit of it, but it was awful. The children have no business engaging in such dancing."

The motion passed, with Baumgartner noting that more acceptable school dances included the one-step, two-step, and waltz. Even though New Orleans schools have been more or less ignoring the mandate in recent decades—or maybe didn't know about it all—the school board wanted to officially scrub it. "I want to acknowledge that this was rooted in racism," school board President Olin Parker said this week before the vote, per NBC. "In this instance and in this instance only we're glad that the policy was ignored by our students, by our schools," board member Katherine Baudouin said, per the AP. "Our schools played a major role in the development of jazz." (Indeed: Louis Armstrong emerged from New Orleans' public school system. Read more here.)

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