Creoles of Color


In his article on the origins of Jazz (click here to read it), Len Weinstock says that the reason Jazz music was born in New Orleans and no other city was the Black Creole subculture, or Creoles of color.

While many people associate Creoles solely with French ancestory, there were actually German Creoles, Irish Creoles, French Creoles and others. There also existed a substantial population of Creoles of color. These were decendents of both Creoles or Europeans and African Americans both enslaved and free. These offspring were a part of the Creole culture and were as such free and equal members of society. They identified with their European ancestors and as such their schooling in music tended to be classical.

Many Creoles of color prided themselves as being exceptional musicians. There was in fact a creole symphony prior in New Orleans prior to the Civil War. They did not associate themselves very much with the socially inferior slave population. They lived in the older part of town, today known as the French Quarter, and were sometimes among the social elite. All of this was destined to change though. Eventually a strict set of laws named for one of the first minstrel hits, Jim Crow, would throw the Creoles of color out of mainstream society and place them with former slaves as second class citizens.

These Creoles owed their existence as much to the river as anyone else did. As did all of New Orleans, their lives were tied to the river. Without it, there would have been no Creole of culture subculture. Without the institution of slavery it is doubtful that Creoles of color would have associated so closely with their European ancestors and so distantly with their African ancestors.


Return to
Jazz Home

Return to Music of the River Home