History behind the New Orleans, La Jazz Festival

jazzMahalia Jackson, often called the greatest gospel singer, returned to her hometown to appear at the first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in April of 1970. While attending the Louisiana Heritage Fair in Congo Square (then known as Beauregard Square), she and Duke Ellington, who also appeared at the event, came upon the Eureka Brass Band leading a crowd of second-line revelers through the Festival grounds. George Wein, producer of the Festival, handed Ms. Jackson a microphone, she sang along with the band and joined the parade…and the spirit of Jazz Fest was born.

This spontaneous, momentous scene—this meeting of jazz and heritage—has stood for decades since as a stirring symbol of the authenticity of the celebration that was destined to become a cultural force.

From the very beginning, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was envisioned as an important event that would have great cultural significance and popular appeal. The Festival was the culmination of years of discussions and efforts by city leaders who wanted to create an event worthy of the city’s legacy as the birthplace of jazz. A couple of other festivals were held in the years leading up to the first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, but those events, different in format, did not take hold as the Jazz & Heritage Festival would.  Learn More.

From 1976 to 1978, Jazz Fest expanded to two full weekends of the Heritage Fair, and in 1979, for the 10th anniversary, the Festival scheduled three weekends, though one entire weekend was cancelled due to rain.

Over the years Jazz Fest has received many honors, including being named the Festival of the Year four times by Pollstar magazine. The 2004 event marks the 35th anniversary of Jazz Fest, which the Wall Street Journal says “showcases a wider, deeper lineup of essential American musical styles than any festival in the nation…” and which Life magazine has called “the country’s very best music festival.’’

Inspired by the spirit of Mahalia Jackson and the Eureka Brass Band back in 1970, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival continues to celebrate the culture of Louisiana with the combined fervor of a gospel hymn and the joy of a jazz parade


If you are traveling to Louisiana to come to the Jazz Festival, you might also consider driving west to Lafayette, La and staying at the Louisiana Cajun Mansion Bed & Breakfast.  There are many interesting things to do in Lafayette.   Check out the Music, Food,  Festivals, Tours and History and Culture pages.


The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
336 Camp Street, Ste 250
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 410-4100

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation
1205 N. Rampart Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 558-6100