As the nineteenth century turned to the twentieth, New Orleans overflowed with music. Sometime around the 1890s, however, a new music had begun to emerge in New Orleans, called “ratty music,” which was a kind of embryonic jazz. New Orleans's relative racial tolerance laid the groundwork for a music that would catapult African Americans into the center of American culture. The emergence of a music that crossed racial boundaries also required a group that itself blurred such borders—mixed-race Creoles of Color. The existence of Creoles challenged the binary racial system, and indeed the concept of race itself, in a number of ways. In the period during which the music later called “jazz” first emerged, New Orleans's tradition of relative racial tolerance was largely being destroyed by Jim Crow, with a dramatic overturning of the vestiges of equality in the city. This chapter focuses on the emergence of jazz in New Orleans. It describes urban villages, black church and counterinstitutions, and the link between jazz and gender.
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