Meaning and History of

The Name “The Second Line”

Days that are fast slipping into the limbo of all good things of yesterday are catching up with the marching bands of New Orleans.  What used to be a daily occurrence (cometimes several times a day) was a New Orleans street parade.  Many times, the occasions were festive.  Moe often, however, a funeral procession was the reason for a marching band.

Historians love to embroider this phase of early New Orleans music.  For as many years as old-timers can recall the marching bands of New Orleans, they also remember the string of youngsters who followed the bands along the streets.  These kids welcomed the opportunity to act as “caddies” to the celebrated musicians, being proud and happy to carry the instruments for them when they were not playing.  A famous name like Buddy Bolden provokes memories of several beautiful young girls fighting each other for the privilege of marching beside their great hero, just in order to carry his cornet!

However, this business of harassing the bands in formation became objectionable and often threw the bands out of step.

It was finally ruled that no one would be allowed to march in formation with the musicians.  But the kids were not discouraged that easily.  The thrill of listening to the music and watching the bands and Officers of the organization strut with their waving plumes, sparkling swards and elaborate sashes glittering in the sunlight of the hot New Orleans afternoon was too much for them to abandon without a struggle.

Prevented from walking side-by-side with the strutting bands, the youngsters formed a marching group on the sidewalk, just alongside the band.  They kept step with the band, imitating every move, and mimicking the proud attitude of the leaders.  Many of these children carried toy drums, tin pans, harmonicas, “bones,” penny-whistles, mouth organs, and rattles – and even attempted to play, at the same time as their elders, the tunes that have been indelibly handed down by ear, generation to generation.

To these youngsters was applied the name, “the second line”, in contrast to the “first line,”  the actual adult marching unit.  As years went along, this band of followers was not limited to children, but to anyone who felt the beat of the music and the urge to parade and strut.  Men ans women, colored and white, anyone who joined in the sidewald parade were all included when reference was made to “the second line”.

The New Orleans Jazz Club had been in existence for two years, when it was decided that a club bulletin was necessary.  In April of 1950, Myra Menville typed out the first copy, eight mimeographed pages, seven of which contained news and short articles.  A contest of sorts was announced which promised some records for the best name submitted for the new rag.  Over two hundred names were submitted.  The winner was our secretary, Myra Menville.

The Club was then in a dilemma!  We feared that if one of the incumbent officers was awarded the prize, favoritism would be claimed.  After much discussion among the Board, it was decided that the name The Second Line for our magazine was much too perfect to discard.  And hence, all of us who follow New Orleans music are naturally in “the second line”.

Shep Pleasants, of the New Orleans Item, drew up the present front page format for the magazine, and we switched over to “offset” (a photographed form).  The format in offset continued until March, 1952, when it was decided to use ‘slick paper’.  The increasing local and national and even international membership necessitated improvement in the type of material in general required to keep step with the healthily growing organization.

Because of her many other duties, Myra Menvill resigned as editor and was succeeded by Dr. Edmond Souchon who has continued to that cpacity up to the present.

Although the Club is unable to offer any financial recompense for material used (this being a strictly civic, non-profit organization), when an appeal was made to friends all over the nation, the response was remarkable.  We have been fortunate, too, that honest friends of jazz wish to do their share in the unselfish and pleasnt job of making OUR music known to more and more people.

Illustrating this point is the splendid pen and ink drawing gracing our front cover.  It does not need to have a caption.  It is right from the heart of Dick Freniere, a corresponding member in Massachusetts.

We are proud that Paul Barbarin, famous drummer and composer of such numbers as “Bourbon Street Parade,” “Come Back Sweet Papa,” etc., name his most recent composition “The Second Line.”  Paul’s band recently recorded this number on the Jazztone Society label.

The Second Line, New Orleans Jazz Club; Friday, October 7, 1955; Jazz festival Souvenir Program.