The Sound & Soul of New Orleans

by Dave Austin

Ask someone to name some music from New Orleans, and you’ll likely get “When the Saints Go Marching In.” However, the Crescent City’s contribution to popular music runs as deep and wide as the Mississippi River and spans as many generations and genres as the number of ingredients in a gumbo. Many would contend there’s not a Southern city which has had a larger and more lasting contribution to popular music.


Considered the birthplace of jazz, the city’s music has branched out and taken on various forms until today, you’ll hear seemingly-unlikely styles being played side by side in clubs, on the streets, in live performances and on radio in the area. Although I occasionally get a request for “When the Saints Go Marching In,” jazz is no longer on the modern music radar.

Among notables emerging from traditional jazz roots, Louis Prima played trumpet around town, but soon followed his idol, Louis Armstrong, and moved north. Taking styles rooted in the jazz tradition, he swung his hot music well into the rock and roll era. After headlining at the Famous Door in New York City, Prima moved to Las Vegas where he, his band, Sam Butera and the Witnesses, and wife Keely Smith were long-time stars, Prima turned out hit songs ( “That Old Black Magic,” for which he won a Grammy,) made TV and movie appearances and was the voice of King Louie in Disney’s “Jungle Book.”

Rhythm & Blues

Following WW II, a new musical style called rhythm & blues came out of New Orleans fueled by prominent local musicians such as Fats Domino. Before long, early rockers were journeying to the city, recording hit songs using local musicians. During the late 1950s and early 60s, Ernie K-Doe, Larry Williams, The Dixie Cups, Aaron Neville, etc. were churning out hit after hit. As this early rock morphed into soul, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Lee Dorsey and Huey “Piano” Smith topped the national Pop and R&B charts under the guidance of legendary songwriter-producer-arranger Allan Toussaint, and helped lay the groundwork for some of the earliest funk bands such as the Meters. Little Richard’s sax-fueled touring band is credited by James Brown as being the first to put the funk into rock ‘n’ roll.

Doom & Trash Metal

During the 1980s, heavy metal began to take shape and the “Louisiana sound” emerged, pioneered by the band Exhorder, which was the first group to combine the sub-genres of doom metal and up tempo thrash metal.


New Orleans also has a rich hip-hop history, beginning with Master P, the city’s first mainstream rapper. Throughout the 1990s into today, some of the area’s seminal artist include Soulja Slim, C-Murder, Silkk the Shocker and, perhaps the most famous, Lil’ Wayne. Spinning out of New Orleans’ hip-hop, bounce music commands a substantial following throughout the South. Traditional “call and response” and whistling are essential elements of bounce, and on a number of recent mainstream hits, you’ll hear this whistling influence. (“Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People, etc.) Atlanta-based artists, such as Lil’ Jon and the Ying Yang Twins, frequently incorporate bounce chants into their music. (“Shake that thing like a salt shaker”)

A Wide Diversity of Styles

Although many cities have made contributions to modern music, likely none span a wider diversity of styles and have been as long-lasting as New Orleans. In this article, space permitting, I could have also mentioned the various forms of jazz; Cajun, zydeco, blues, gospel, reggae, swing and more – all mixed into the musical pot which makes New Orleans’ music so unique. For the world’s largest selection of Louisiana and New Orleans music, check out the Louisiana Music Factory.

Dave Austin – Music Professor

Dave Austin began his career at age 13 at a small, hometown radio station. He went on to graduate from the University of Southern Mississippi with a Bachelor’s degree in broadcasting.

Since that time, Dave has been a mobile and radio DJ, radio station Program Director, and a TV news reporter and anchorman. He has also done voiceover work for documentaries and commercials.

In 1986 Dave’s longtime passion for music prompted him to start “Southern Celebrations DJs,” a multi-system mobile entertainment company serving clients in Tennessee, Northern Georgia and Northern Alabama.

You can email him c/o or visit his website – Moonlight Mobile Music.