America’s Blackest City: New Orleans, Where Blackness Was Born

This year, America will commemorate 400 years when the first slaves were forced onto this land in 1619.

When considering the experiences of our people in this country, I can only think of one city that can tie together all our attributes: history, music, cuisine, influential leaders, cultural landmarks and information that is unique to us.

New Orleans.

When you consider that some of the first slaves who came to the region set the tone—from settling America’s oldest black neighborhood, Treme (the real, not the TV show) in 1783, where black folks bought land and homes on a regular basis, to Congo Square, where, according to city law, blacks could congregate to play music, dance and sell goods in the marketplace to having a place of worship like Saint Augustine Catholic Church, which is the oldest black parish in America when founded in 1841.

Footwork originated from communication-based dances that were performed on Sunday in Congo Square.

Jazz, second line music, the drum patters in both call-and-response are all original elements of what influenced of the hip-hop sounds of today.

We are the birthplace of jazz and gospel, led by Louie Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson. Their influences along with the traditions learned in Congo Square are still felt today.

As local musician Dion Norman describes, hip-hop started in New York City but used samples from the Meters, also known as the Funk Meters, who formed in 1965. Their signature song, “They Ask’d For You,” became a regional favorite and “Cissy Strut” and “Look-ka Py Py” are known funk classics. New Orleans hip-hop implemented both hip-hop and the original New Orleans music created by the slaves and free blacks in Congo square, which led to the creation of bounce music.

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