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Louisiana Music History: Materials in Special Collections


Carnival celebrations in New Orleans have existed nearly as long as the city itself, with records extending as far back as the 1730s. Its earliest iterations did not involve the public revelry and parades, but were rather limited to societal balls for the first century or so. From its beginning, music played an essential role in Mardi Gras and Carnival celebrations. In the 19th century, a parading tradition was established as wealthier members of society formed private social organizations called krewes. The Mistick Krewe of Comus, the oldest Mardi Gras krewe, held the first parade in 1857, which involved horse-drawn floats, flambeaux, and costumed krewe members. More krewes formed subsequently, and today there are hundreds throughout Louisiana. Though Mardi Gras is often associated with New Orleans, communities across the state have unique ways of celebrating the season. 

Krewes traditionally threw balls throughout Carnival, which became focal points of the social season. These prestigious events were usually held at local halls and theatres, such as the French Opera House, and featured hours of dancing and live music. Balls were traditionally very exclusive, and invitations were precious. Special Collections houses selections of 19th century Carnival ball invitations, many of which exhibit beautiful mythology-inspired illustrations. These invitations were printed onto die-cut paper and shipped to New Orleans from Paris. 

One of the most recognizable symbols of Carnival in New Orleans is the Mardi Gras Indian. Tribes are made up of Black New Orleanians who create elaborate suits each year in honor of the Indigenous peoples who befriended and aided their enslaved ancestors. There are 40 different Mardi Gras Indian tribes in New Orleans, and they each have their own unique styles and traditions. Their music often incorporates call-and-response verses and handheld instruments. Special Collections houses many published materials documenting the music, dancing, and costumes of these unique cultural figures. 

Key Catalog Terms

Listed below are some recommended catalog key terms for searching for music during Mardi Gras. Full steps on how to use these key terms can be found on this LibGuide's homepage.

Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras Indians
Mardi Gras music

Key Subject Headings

Listed below are some recommended subject headings for searching for music during Mardi Gras. Full steps on how to use these subject headings can be found on this LibGuide's homepage.

Balls (Parties) -- Louisiana -- New Orleans.
Carnival -- Alabama -- Mobile.
Carnival -- Louisiana.
Carnival -- Louisiana -- Baton Rouge.
Carnival -- Louisiana -- History.
Carnival -- Louisiana -- New Orleans.
Carnival -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- Periodicals.
Carnival -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- Songs and music.
Krewe of Rex -- Medals, badges, decorations, etc.
Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras Indians -- History.
Mistick Krewe of Comus (Organization)

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