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Louisiana Music History: Materials in Special Collections


While theatres, festivals, and city-wide celebrations have played important roles in Louisiana culture, much of the music and dance comes from within the home. It was not uncommon during the 19th century for households to own an instrument —typically a piano, as piano performances were a popular form of entertainment at the time. A family of means might arrange piano lessons for their children or hire professional entertainment for a party. During the first half of the 19th century, many relied on enslaved musicians, such as a guest at the Trenton House in New Jersey, who describes music played by an enslaved man named Blind Tom (Mss. 1533). Outside of these situations, enslaved people were often discouraged from gathering and performing. The city of New Orleans attempted to pass and enforce ordinances to regulate such functions. One such resolution can be viewed in the New Orleans municipal records. 

Though venues such as the French Opera House were popular locations for large societal events, smaller balls were often held in homes. These were important opportunities for citizens not only to engage in fun and dance, but to connect with one another. Music facilitated these connections, for better or worse. The charivari was a French folk custom of performing a mock serenade for an unpopular member of society during the 19th century. Nathaniel Evans describes one such serenade in his March 17, 1804 letter to James Hewitt, found in the Nathaniel Evans family papers. 

Key Catalog Terms

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


Key Subject Headings

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

Music -- Instruction and study -- Louisiana.
New Orleans (La.) -- Social life and customs.

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