New Orleans is known for its unique culture and its connection to jazz. One of its most famous cultural celebrations is how it honors the dearly departed with its legendary public jazz funeral processions.
Families of the deceased will march alongside musicians playing a somber song and after the burial, a new line forms and the sorrowful tunes turn into a joyous celebration where the public joins in and dance in the street to celebrate the life that has moved on. Now, a nearly century-old tradition has been temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Public traditions like these are now on hold as health officials try to contain the coronavirus outbreak. The annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, usually held in the last weekend of April, was canceled due to the public health crisis.
“For the first time in the city’s history, a task force was assembled to oversee the “death care” of those who passed away due to the virus,” Collin Arnold, director of emergency preparedness for New Orleans and a member of the task force, said to USA Today. The devastation left by the virus has forced the city to make difficult requests like extra refrigerated trailers for the dead.
“We’re a very tight-knit community of music and festivity, and I think that extends to our funerals, our jazz funerals and second lines,” Arnold continued. “And unfortunately those really can’t occur right now. This is an unprecedented event, and you just have to look at the numbers to know this is necessary.”
The absence of the public celebration can be felt by locals who are still mourning loved ones they have lost. “You can trace the impact of the health crisis in New Orleans by the silence of the city — no brass bands, no funerals, no church services happening,” said Tulane University ethnomusicologist Matt Sakakeeny. “Mourning is happening in the homes.”