The Rock ‘n’ Bowl to
host Benefit for the Backstreet Cultural Museum, 11/13

The Backstreet Cultural Museum is one of the hidden gems of the New Orleans cultural community. Located in the heart of Tremé in a former funeral home across the street from the historic St. Augustine Church, it has always operated on a shoestring budget. This Sunday afternoon, Mid City Lanes Rock ‘n’ Bowl will host a fundraiser featuring zydeco stars Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots and Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Cha’s.

The first time I ever encountered Sylvester Francis, the founder of the museum, was at a jazz funeral back in the early 1990s. He was filming the event with the detailed eye of an expert. Subsequently I noticed him filming every jazz funeral I attended.

All told, he has filmed many hundreds of processions from massive gatherings celebrating the life of internationally known musicians to tiny parades for people from the neighborhood. There was even a jazz funeral for a well-loved dog.

I was writing for the Louisiana Weekly at the time and I decided to write a profile of the man and his fledgling museum. Back then, its holdings consisted of a few Mardi Gras Indian suits and was located in his house.

Over the years, Francis and I struck up a friendship and he became an irreplaceable source of information about the black culture of New Orleans. In time, his museum found a home, became a repository of black culture, and is now regarded as the world’s most comprehensive collection of art related to the masking and processional traditions of New Orleans including Mardi Gras Indians, jazz funerals, social aid and pleasure clubs, baby dolls, and skull and bone gangs.

I encourage every local and visitor interested in the culture to visit the museum. Two small rooms are stuffed with artifacts—one side represents the second line culture of social aid and pleasure clubs and the other features numerous Mardi Gras Indian suits lined up side by side.

Visitors can examine the suits and the outfits of the social aid and pleasure clubs up close and examine the intricate work involved in these handmade creations. Lingering in the museum provides countless insights because hundreds of other artifacts including photos, second line route sheets and videos are also on display.

I also encourage everyone to support this very important institution by attending the benefit or making a donation.

The event is from 4-7 PM. Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door.

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