Louisiana House Party: At the Intersection of Work and Art
My love for Louisiana goes all the way back to middle school. My uncle moved to New Orleans following his retirement from the navy to work in the shipping industry there. One of my strongest childhood memories remains that of my first walk down Bourbon Street with my parents. It was like having entered another world. I was fascinated, awed, shocked, and excited all at the same time. In those days (the late 1960s), live music from the best NOLA artists poured into the crowded streets. The Vieux Carré was alive with exotic smells, sounds, and sights. Even my conservative tee-totaling parents felt like The Quarter was a must-have experience, and I never lost my love of the Big Easy, traveling back often over the years to stay with my uncle and his family and drink deeply of the culture of the muddy Mississippi. I always knew that I would have a special relationship with Louisiana, though at the time I couldn’t be sure just what form that was going to take. Particularly striking to me was the way in which families in Louisiana celebrated together. If there was a party, everyone was invited to come – the mamas and daddies, the babies, the grandparents, friends, relatives, co-workers. They rolled up the rugs, took out the instruments and everyone joined the party.
In 1995, the “Blues Doctor,” Dr. Russell Linnemann – a blues history professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, fellow DJ at WUTC, and lover of all things Louisiana – took me to Opelousas for my first Zydeco Festival. I think my mouth was wide open the whole time. Here was another kind of music I never knew existed and a cultural exuberance unmatched in my experience. The dancing . . . the food . . . the friendliness of the people . . . all left a lasting impression. Shortly after my introduction to Cajun and zydeco culture, I was offered an opportunity to host a radio show in Chattanooga featuring the music of Louisiana on the local public radio station. I jumped at the opportunity and hosted the Louisiana House Party on WUTC 88.1 FM for eight years.
Long after the show ended in the early 2000s, I launched Village Virtual LLC in 2012 with the goal of empowering schools and districts to offer online learning opportunities to their students. Our first big opportunity came in the form of the Course Choice program (now called the Supplementary Course Academy) that was launched the following year in 2013 by the Louisiana Department of Education and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). Now in our sixth year of service to students across the state, I have come full circle with the House Party as well, launching the second iteration of the radio show on WUTC 88.1 FM on Monday, August 19th of 2019.
For an hour a week, I stroll down Bourbon Street, soak in the sounds of Henry Butler and Big Chief Bo Dollis at the Funky Butt, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the revelers at The Maple Leaf, recline in a pasture in Opelousas to the sound of Wayne Toups’ accordion and a thumping bass, and drip wet with sweat at Richard’s where the dancing pounds the ancient wood floor until the wee hours of the morning. The authenticity of the music recalls the miles of sugar cane and cotton fields, the smoke stacks of the refineries, the slap of the water against the riverboats, the parades and second lines, the creative energy that tingles in the New Orleans air, the rich fabric that is memory of Louisiana. Is life imitating art? Perhaps. All I can say with certainty is that is it sweet to once again be giving voice to Louisiana artists that may not be well known in other areas of the country and to feel connected to the life and culture of the people in the schools that I have come to know and love. Join me on a Monday evening at 2 PM EST wherever you are, and we’ll take this stroll together: https://www.wutc.org/post/wutc-now-web-streaming