Strutting and jumping and high-stepping beneath their decorated parasols – blowing whistles and waving feathered fans – African-American members of New Orleans’ social aid and pleasure clubs are the organizers, originators, and sponsors of the second line parades for which the city is famous.
In his autobiography, “Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans,” Louis Armstrong wrote that when he was a child, "To watch those clubs parade was an irresistible and absolutely unique experience ... Every time one of those clubs paraded I could second line with them all day long." And in 1949, the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club asked Pops to reign as King in the Zulu parade.
But social aid and pleasure clubs aren’t just about parading. They grew out of organizations from the 1800s called benevolent societies – groups that performed charitable works, hosted social events and helped members defray health care costs and funeral expenses when times got tough.
When a member dies, benevolent associations often have jazz funerals. Brass bands play somber, processional music on the way to the cemetery, and upbeat, joyous music on the way back. Tears about the person who had passed away give way to gratitude and celebrating that the person had been blessed to exist.
Today, there are nearly 70 social aid and pleasure clubs in New Orleans with names like Golden Trumpets Social & Pleasure Club, The Money Wasters Social & Pleasure Club, The New Orleans Men Buck Jumpers and The Devastating Ladies. While they no longer serve all the functions they once did, they do continue to unify communities and are a huge source of cultural pride and civic responsibility. Clubs range in size from 7 to 85 members for neighborhood clubs to several hundred in the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, the club that sponsors the Zulu parade on Mardi Gras.
You can catch second line parades on Sunday afternoons in the fall and spring. Many of the Social Aid and Pleasure strut their stuff at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.