NEW ORLEANS – The global COVID-19 crisis, which affected countless aspects of culture and celebration everywhere, led to a long disruption of the city’s famed second line parades. The new book “Dancing in the Streets” from The Historic New Orleans Collection documents, in more than 300 color images and new essays, a powerful tradition forged from hardship and creativity—neighborhood street parades that have become part of the lifeblood of the city.
Weekly events held throughout the town, organized by dozens of social aid and pleasure clubs or benevolent societies, second line parades are a time-honored tradition of local Black culture. Powered by the irresistible beats of a brass band, club members garbed in colorful, coordinated attire dance and strut through the streets for hours at a time, pausing at neighborhood businesses and watering holes to refresh and regroup along the way. When the official procession, or “first line,” passes, the crowd follows as the “second line,” joining the parade as it winds from block to block gathering participants, onlookers and sharp-eyed photographers.
This stunning hardcover book is presented as a companion publication to the exhibition “Dancing in the Streets: Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs of New Orleans,” presented by The Historic New Orleans Collection as a tribute to the tradition during the silenced 2020–21 parade season. Author Judy Cooper, a longtime second line photographer, spent nearly a decade documenting the many ties that bind the second line clubs to the city’s culture and history.
Essays by leading scholars—including Rachel Carrico, Freddi Williams Evans, Charles “Action” Jackson, Matt Sakakeeny and Michael G. White (the jazz historian and clarinetist who performs as Dr. Michael White)—discuss the evolution of the parades from their roots in post–Civil War Black mutual aid societies; their ties to African-derived performance practices in Congo Square; the artistry and style of the clubs’ suits and regalia; and the role of music and dancing in making second line parades kinetic, collective works of art. Also included is an epilogue about the pandemic and our year without second lines.
“Dancing in the Streets” profiles all 58 clubs active during the last full second line season (2018–19) and the truncated 2019–20 season. Brimming with images—by Judy Cooper, Brad Edelman, Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee, Pableaux Johnson, Charles Lovell, MJ Mastrogiovanni, Leslie Parr, L. A. Reno, J. R. Thomason and Eric Waters—it offers a thorough, entertaining survey of a time-honored New Orleans tradition.
“To be in a second line on a sunny Sunday afternoon, dancing through the streets to the lively music of a brass band, is to revel in life,” Cooper said. “Working with the other photographers and authors who contributed to this book, my goal has been to document the clubs as they are now, to preserve them for the future, and to educate the rest of the country about this singular and colorful aspect of New Orleans’s rich and distinctive culture.”