The year in culture: New Orleans 2016 in review (a curated roundup of news)

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(NOTE: This round-up will be updated as comments are added, and any notable news is reported, after the end of the year.)

As New Orleans continued to shift into what could be called a “post-post-Katrina” period — that is, moving past the 10-year commemoration of the devastation, or recovery mode — evidence of a new New Orleans culture continued to reverberate all over. Sometimes we see that reflected in trends identified in other cities, like a more diverse (and ever-shifting) restaurant scene, or (more dramatically) the legalization and hopeful regulation of short-term rentals. Then there was, for a variety of reasons, a shrinking of the Hollywood South imprint and its seeming rejection of a film industry in the state. Yet there continued the boundless proliferation of festivals as New Orleans continued to almost manically celebrate itself.

To be sure, the changing face of the city’s culture remained ever changing.

There are those who believe that, with so many of these changes, New Orleans’ unique and often quirky culture might be threatened — that the reasons that make the city so special and so inviting to the rest of the world are shrinking like the Louisiana coastline.

But 2016 also represented a year of amazing and exciting moments that reconfirmed a city’s passion for its cultural life — even when commemorating the lives of famous cultural figures not from New Orleans. Here’s an overview of many of these moments, a (hopefully) carefully curated round-up of stories pulled from several local media outlets (including PopSmart NOLA), as well as national outlets where appropriate.

The year is broken down into categories, with a subjectively chosen lead story followed by links to lots of others. I hope to continue the discussion on “PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV (102.3 FM) on Saturday (3 p.m.-4 p.m.).

What was the biggest cultural moment in New Orleans in 2016 for you? Please add any of your important moments in the comments section.

Irvin Mayfield resigns from the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (WWL-TV)
“Calling the last months ‘trying and difficult,’ Irvin Mayfield responded for the first time to the 14-month scandal surrounding his use of public library donations by resigning as artistic director and board member at the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, a nonprofit he founded in 2002.”

ALSO: Beyonce’s “Formation” video, with New Orleans references, is released (Curbed) … New Orleans Airlift’s Music Box finds a permanent home in Bywater (My Spilt Milk) … Trombone Shorty performs at the White House for 50th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Arts (WGNO) … Bayou Country Superfest to relocate to New Orleans in 2017 ( | The Times-Picayune) … Skywriting turns heads at Jazz Fest ( | The Times-Picayune) … Bayou Boogaloo policy has neighbors feeling fenced in ( | The Times-Picayune) … Musicians rally for Lil Queenie (My Spilt Milk) … Michael Cerveris releases “Piety” (PopSmart NOLA) … Lil Wayne makes news (not all of it good) … Fats Domino documentary airs on PBS (New Orleans Advocate) … Boyfriend breaks out (My Spilt Milk) … French Quarter Festivals, Inc.’s Marci Schramm steps down (New Orleans Advocate) … David Kunian takes over as director of New Orleans Jazz Museum (New Orleans Advocate) … Local acts warm up for national acts at Jazz Fest (My Spilt Milk) … Delish Da Goddess breaks out with video (Gambit) … Solange’s “A Seat at the Table” album debuts at No. 1; album’s videos have “stunning power”; Solange pens letter after Orpheum incident; and Solange plays New Orleans tour guide for Vogue … Big Freedia crowned queen of Krewe du Vieux (PopSmart NOLA) … Big Feedia experiences legal trouble (New Orleans Advocate) … and Big Freedia saves the holiday with “A Very Big Freedia Christmass” ( | The Times-Picayune) … Tank and the Bangas break out (My Spilt Milk)

Shaya wins James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant ( | The Times-Picayune)

“Shaya opened in Uptown New Orleans in February 2015. The restaurant, which is co-owned by John Besh, has been a sensation from the get-go. The food pays tribute to chef Shaya’s native Israel. Reservations to taste that food have been unusually hard to come by. Several national food outlets named Shaya among the country’s best new restaurant openings of the year. I gasped over the restaurant in a four-bean review in July. ‘Who woulda thought hummus in New Orleans?’ Shaya said when he accepted his medal. ‘What was everyone thinking?’”

ALSO: Nellie Murray Feast honors Leah Chase, remembers culinary legend ( | The Times-Picayune) … Fried Chicken Fest debuts, to move to bigger venue (New Orleans Advocate) … Isaac Toups expands to SoFAB with Toups South ( | The Times-Picayune) … Dryades Public Market opens in Central City (Biz New Orleans) … Restaurant Closings: Booty’s ( | The Times-Picayune) … Dinner Lab ( | The Times-Picayune) … Kyoto (New Orleans Advocate) … O’Henry’s Food & Spirits ( | The Times-Picayune) … Tony Angello’s (New Orleans Advocate) … Horinoya (New Orleans Advocate) … and Restaurant Openings: Caribbean Room ( | The Times-Picayune) … Dook’s Place (PopSmart NOLA) … Rosedale ( | The Times-Picayune) … Wolf ’n’ Swallow (Gambit) … Dunbar’s Creole Cooking (New Orleans Advocate) … Brett Anderson’s top five new restaurants ( | The Times-Picayune).

Author Michael Tisserand releases “Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White” to universal praise (PopSmart NOLA)
“The subtitle is more than a clever pun, for Tisserand reveals the racial subtext of Herriman’s life, which often seeped into his comic-strip hero of the same name; Herriman, an African American, “passed” as a white man. The praise for Tisserand’s book — years in the making — already is overwhelmingly positive on this, its release date (Dec. 6). … “Seamlessly integrating the story of Herriman’s life, he executes an impressive history of early-20th-century race relations, the rise of Hearst and the newspaper boom, and the burgeoning cross-continental society life of New York and Los Angeles,” writes Kirkus Reviews.”

ALSO: Michael Allen Zell releases “Law & Desire” (New Orleans Advocate) … Illustrated edition of Danny Barker memoir “A Life in Jazz” is released, with forward by Gwen Thompkins (NPR) … New Orleans Poetry Festival debuts (WWNO) … Mary Badham appears at Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival (Deep South magazine) … Tulane hosts traveling “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare” exhibit; holds second line ( | The Times-Picayune) … New Orleans Public Library adds new hours ( | The Times-Picayune) … New Orleans Public Library’s new Mid-City location opens on Canal Street (New Orleans Advocate) … Michael Murphy releases “Hear Dat New Orleans: A Guide to the Rich Musical Heritage and Lively Current Scene” (WWNO).

Louisiana stripper age-limit law challenged (New Orleans Advocate)
“Three dancers from New Orleans and Baton Rouge filed the suit claiming the state law robs them of their right to express themselves, a violation of the state and federal constitutions. They also said the ban is too broad and discriminates against dancers based on gender and age. Further, the dancers said there’s no evidence the new restrictions will have any impact on human trafficking, even though the state lawmaker who introduced it, Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, said it was ‘strictly an anti-human trafficking bill.’ All three dancers said the ban would hurt them financially. Two dancers said their income already had been sliced by at least half.”
ALSO: Polly Watts takes Avenue Pub staff to Belgium (PopSmart NOLA) … Bar Openings: Three Keys, Ace Hotel ( | The Times-Picayune) … Bar Closings: Bellocq ( | The Times-Picayune) … Fox & Hound ( | The Times-Picayune).

Tyler Perry presents nationally televised “The Passion” live in New Orleans (Deadline)

“Equal parts sermon and Super Bowl halftime show, Fox’s ‘The Passion’ live event from New Orleans tonight was an Easter basket overstuffed with sincerity, good intentions and hammy musical performances, all melting into a big batch of goo faster than a chocolate bunny in the sun.”

ALSO: Faux/Real Fest drastically reduces footprint ( | The Times-Picayune) … New Orleans Opera presents “Dead Man Walking” (Louisiana Life) … Richard Mayer closes Old Marquer Theatre (| The Times-Picayune); opens Valiant Theater & Lounge in Arabi (New Orleans Advocate) … InFringe Fest debuts, sort of ( | The Times-Picayune) … Theater gets wet: “Waterworld: The Musical” ( | The Times-Picayune) and “Exterior. Pool – Night” … Trixie Minx presents “Cupid’s Cabaret” at the Orpheum (PopSmart NOLA) … Transgender artists reclaim their identity (PopSmart NOLA) … Bella Blue voted No. 8 burlesque performer in 21st Century Burlesque poll (PopSmart NOLA) … Le Petit Théâtre celebrates 100 years (Biz New Orleans) … Snake Oil Festival draws huge crowds for burlesque, circus and sideshow performances (PopSmart NOLA).

Hollywood South turns South with tax-credit limitations (New Orleans Advocate)
“Louisiana’s film and television industry — popularly known as Hollywood South because of the large number of movies and shows filmed here over the past decade — has suffered a sharp downturn since mid-2015. Industry officials are blaming a law passed a year ago by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal — a law that aimed to control ballooning costs for a generous incentive program that independent analysts say has not provided much bang for the buck.”

ALSO: New Orleans Film Society’s Jolene Pinder steps down ( | The Times-Picayune) … Deepwater Horizon movie debuts ( | The Times-Picayune); so does memorial “ELEVEN” ( | The Times-Picayune) … Broad Theater opens in Mid-City (Gambit) … New Orleans’ own Bianca Del Rio stars in “Hurricane Bianca” (PopSmart NOLA) … Architecture and Design Film Festival debuts, sponsored by the Louisiana Architectural Foundation, at Carver and Broad theaters ( | The Times-Picayune) … Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie sell French Quarter house as marriage ends (ET).

Artist Brandan Odums opens StudioBE with new exhibit in Bywater ( | The Times-Picayune)
“The powerful installation features mural-scale graffiti-style portraits of Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Muhammad Ali, plus paintings of victims of police violence, New Orleans’ past political activists, and world peace advocates. The theme of the exhibit bridges the mid-20th-century Civil Rights era and the recent Black Lives Matter movement. The title, Odums said, is meant to imply both change and continuity.”

ALSO: Bob Dylan exhibition opens at New Orleans Museum of Art ( | The Times-Picayune) … “La Femme” at New Orleans Arts Center captures diversity of women (New Orleans Advocate) … “Avian Aviators” sculptures dominate Poydras Street (New Orleans Advocate).

City Council approves short-term rental rules (New Orleans Advocate)
“Council members who supported the rules — along with officials from the Landrieu administration and Airbnb — cast the package of regulations as a model for regulating the roughly 5,000 properties in New Orleans now listed on short-term rental sites, despite a longstanding citywide ban on the practice. And, pointing to data the city would require from Airbnb and similar platforms, they argued the new rules would provide a foundation that can be made more or less restrictive if problems develop.”

ALSO: Confederate memorials spur “Take ’Em Down” movement (Curbed) … National World War II Museum commemorates 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor  (WDSU) … Ellen DeGeneres earns Presidential Medal of Freedom (PopSmart NOLA) … National Museum of African American History and Culture, with New Orleans references, opens in Washington, D.C. (NPR) … Musee Conti wax museum closes ( | The Times-Picayune) … One kiss goes viral at Southern Decadence (PopSmart NOLA) … Sinkhole de Mayo becomes a thing ( | The Times-Picayune)

NBA moves 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte to New Orleans over HB2 controversy ( | The Times-Picayune)
“The NBA … gets a chance to make a powerful political statement by placing its midseason classic in one of America’s most socially progressive cities. New Orleans ranked fourth among American cities with the highest rates of LGBT population, according to a 2015 New York Times study. It ranked as 12th most ‘LGBT-friendly’ city in the U.S, in a study by, which based its rankings on statistics from the FBI, Gallup and Human Rights Campaign.”

ALSO: New Orleans Zephyrs renamed as Baby Cakes (Washington Post).

Musician Pete Fountain remembered (New Orleans Advocate); second line ( | The Times-Picayune)

Keith Spera: “In their glory years, he and partner-in-crime Al Hirt lived large, laughed loud and drank a whole lot. But when it came time to toot — at his club, during a Super Bowl halftime show, at the White House, wherever — Fountain inevitably delivered. He could make a clarinet sing with a deep, rich, bluesy tone all his own. Styles may change — in a publicity photo from the 1970s, he rocks a toupee, collars the size of eagle wings, and a scarf — but his sound was timeless.”

ALSO: Musician and restaurateur Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr. remembered ( | The Times-Picayune) … Herb Hardesty, longtime Fats Domino saxophonist ( | The Times-Picayune) … Buckwheat Zydeco, music pioneer and Jazz Fest favorite (OffBeat) … Sharon Litwin, arts journalist, promoter, activist ( | The Times-Picayune) … Prince remembered through the years, at Jazz Fest, at Essence Fest, and with second line … David Bowie remembered with tributes, second line (Alison Fensterstock/NPR) … Mercedes “Miss Mercy” Stevenson, Big Queen, Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indians, remembered (WWOZ) … Helen Koenig, Carnival costume supplier ( | The Times-Picayune).

UPDATE: | The Times-Picayune weighed in with a list of 10 highlights, which included noting that Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest happened again.

What were some of your most memorable cultural moments in 2016? Tell us what is missing in the comments section, and we will add them at the beginning of the year.

“Sorry-looking sheep”: Excerpt from Michael Tisserand’s “Krazy,” a biography of cartoonist George Herriman

WHAT: New Orleans author reads from and signs copies of his George Herriman biography
WHEN: Tues. (Dec. 6), 6 p.m.
WHERE: Octavia Books, 513 Octavia St.
MORE INFO: Visit the store website

(Full disclosure: Michael Tisserand was my editor at Gambit Weekly, 1998-2005) 

Michael Tisserand attempted to capture cartoonist and native New Orleanian George Herriman in all of his personal and creative complexity with the deeply researched “Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White” (HarperCollins, 560 pp.). The subtitle is more than a clever pun, for Tisserand reveals the racial subtext of Herriman’s life, which often seeped into his comic-strip hero of the same name; Herriman, an African American, passed as a white man.


(Photo by Pableaux Johnson)

The praise for Tisserand’s book — years in the making — already is overwhelmingly positive on this, its release date (Dec. 6). “Tisserand elevates this exhaustively researched and profusely illustrated book beyond the typical comics biography,” writes Kirkus Reviews. “Seamlessly integrating the story of Herriman’s life, he executes an impressive history of early-20th-century race relations, the rise of Hearst and the newspaper boom, and the burgeoning cross-continental society life of New York and Los Angeles.”

In this excerpt, courtesy of the publisher, Tisserand offers a glimpse at Herriman’s early hints at racial commentary in his work, this time in the form of satirical fiction in advance of a boxing match …

In 1892, bare-knuckle champion John L. Sullivan drew boxing’s color line when he declared, “I will not fight a Negro. I never have, I never shall.” For the next two decades, most top white boxers followed Sullivan’s lead. Yet, by 1906, with the emergence of superior black fighters in every class — Baltimore lightweight Joe Gans, Canadian middleweight Sam Langford, and Texas heavyweight Jack Johnson — boxing fans turned on the “lily-white club.” In his Examiner column, Beanie Walker offered up the “true dope straight from the shoulder” on the color line: “Every time you hear a top-notch white fighter whining about the ‘color line’ you can bet 100 to 1 that there is a dangerous black man fighting in that class.”

Continue reading

Todd Mouton: How the King of Zydeco christened Jazz Fest (book excerpt)

All star jam by Philip Gould 650w

From left to right: A who’s who of Cajun and Creole music – Cleveland Chenier, Dewey Balfa, Marc Savoy, Doug Kershaw and Clifton Chenier – are featured onstage together in this historic, previously unpublished Philip Gould photograph taken at a 1983 evening show on The Riverboat President during Jazz Fest. (Used by permission; all rights reserved.)

“Jazz Fest, like Clifton Chenier, came from humble beginnings,” says author Todd Mouton. “And in 1970, the King of Zydeco’s version of Creole culture was still very much a mystery to a lot of folks in the big city of New Orleans, as the interview transcription in this clip makes clear. At the same time, though, this brief passage also demonstrates the bridges that were being built between cultures at the very first incarnation of the now-enormous phenomenon known as The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.”

Mouton will be interviewed with Chenier’s son C.J. at 4 p.m. Friday (April 29) on the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage at The Fairgrounds, and the author will sign books at noon Saturday (April 30) in the Book Tent at Jazz Fest. He’ll also be signing copies at Rock ’n’ Bowl during Sonny Landreth’s performances on Friday and Sunday nights. Complete details are available at

Mouton’s new book on the King of Zydeco includes profiles of numerous other south Louisiana artists and bands from BeauSoleil to Bonsoir, Catin, and it also includes 130 full-color images by two dozen photographers. Herewith is an excerpt exclusive: PopSmart NOLA.

todd-mouton-way-down-in-la-scanIn the fall of 1969, Clifton Chenier crossed the big pond with his trio to take part in the seventh annual American Folk Blues Festival tour. Photos from the trip show the accordionist, his rubboard-playing brother Cleveland Chenier, and drummer Robert St. Julien with blues greats Earl Hooker, Magic Sam, John Jackson, Juke Boy Bonner, Carey Bell, and “Whistling” Alex Moore.

First, though, the King of Zydeco helped christen the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. On Thursday, April 23, 1970, Chenier and his group were featured at the inauguration of what is now the mother of all professionally produced cultural celebrations. The four-day event featured four stages—Blues, Cajun, Gospel, and Street—and cost just three dollars to get in.

Jazz Fest producer George Wein had founded the Newport Jazz Festival and, with Pete Seeger and Theodore Bikel, co-founded the Newport Folk Festival. The debut New Orleans program promised “You’ll have the opportunity to explore a variety of musical experiences, folklore exhibits, the art of New Orleans and the great food of South Louisiana.” Creole succotash and Begue’s praline ice cream pie were on the menu. The location – Congo Square, now part of Louis Armstrong Park and the famed site where slaves were allowed to gather on Sundays to sing, dance, and play music – was steeped in cultural history.

At 3:30 on that Thursday afternoon, “Clifton Chenier’s Band” was part of a program called “The Musical World of French Louisiana” along with Adam and Cyprien Landreneau, Bois Sec Ardoin and sons, Ambrose Thibodeaux, and other artists. Co-emcee Dick Allen, curator of the Archive of New Orleans Jazz at Tulane, admitted he didn’t really know all that much about French music, so he passed the baton to “someone who’s come all the way from California, Chris Strachwitz, he’s the manager of Clifton Sha-nay’s band.”

“I think Clifton manages himself, he does a good job at it,” Strachwitz said. “I’m just a good friend of his, I record his records. And if you wanna get Clifton for a party, just look him up in the Houston, Texas, phone book, and he’ll be happy to come and play for you. . . . Last October we were in Europe together on a blues show and he finally got to Paris to speak his French, but here he is, with his own kind of French, Clifton Chenier!”

After some brief instrument line checks, Chenier addresses the crowd. “Well, they call me the Frenchman [laughs]. Eh toi! Whooo, we let the bons temps rouler, baby. I guess the boys ready. See this’s my brother on rubboard, Cleveland Chenier. And this my soul brother, Robert St. Julien, on drums. And I also have Big Butch on guitar. And also Jumpin’ Joe Morris on bass. So now I hope y’all enjoy our music, ’cause we gon’ try to sock it to ya. We gon’ first start with a lil’ boogie woogie first, then we gon’ get back to the French music, get the boys in action, you know.”


Todd Mouton

A swinging instrumental follows, and the accordionist explains that “Sometime you got ta kinda wake the boys up a little bit, cha know, shake ’em up a little.” “Release Me” and a great three-piece “Zydeco Est Pas Salé” follow, then Chenier says, “Thank you very much. You know, my home is Opelousas, Looziana, and uh, yeah, my hometown. The rest of the boys from Lafayette . . . Looziana, yeah. Well, we do a lot of traveling, and we enjoy our work, and we enjoy the people and everywhere we go, look like everybody havin’ a good time so we gonna play y’all’s a waltz this time. It’s a record by Ray Charles I recorded in French. ‘You Promised Me Love,’ but it’s in French, see.”


As was typical, his translation is anything but a duplication, and halfway through he says, “Maybe some uh y’all can’t understand French,” and switches to English.

Before his encore, Dick Allen attempts an interview.

Allen: “Is this what you call zy-DE-co?”

Chenier: “Zydeco.”

Allen: “Tell ’em what zydeco means.”

Chenier: “I told ’em once befo’, I’m ’onna tell ’em again, see. You know, do you eat snap beans?”

Allen: “Oh yeah.”

Chenier: “You sure?”

Allen: “I hope so.”

Chenier: “But you put salt in it?”

Allen: “Mm-hmm.”

Chenier: “Well, that’s what it is. No salt in your snap beans, zydeco est pas salé. You see, it’s just that simple, see. Zydeco est pas salé is no salt in my snap beans.”

Allen: “Well, what’s that got to do with music and dancing?”

Chenier: “Well, you see, where I come from they do the zydeco music. One them days, we gon’, we might get together and rig up somethin’ that I can bring some uh them real zydeco dancers down here and let you see how they used to dance in the olden time. Yeah. We’ll do that. You know, uh, right now, you look at the teenagers right now, if you look at them old people dance the real zydeco where I come from, that’s what’s comin’ back, see? . . . We gon’ let the good time roll in French.”

With that, the band charges through a half-French, half-English version of “Bon Ton Roulet.”

3 finalists chosen for “One Book One New Orleans” reading challenge

Three finalists have been selected for the “One Book One New Orleans” reading challenge of New Orleanians to read a book. They are:

Voting will be held through Feb. 22, 2016. The challenge is sponsored by the Young Leadership Council. You can cast your ballot here.

Check out the feature on “The Baby Dolls” here, and a review of “Empire of Sin” here.

Here’s a list of of previous selections:
“A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest J. Gaines, 2004
“Rising Tide” by John M. Barry, 2005
“Coming Out the Door for the Ninth Ward” by Nine Time Social and Pleasure Club, 2007
“City of Refuge” by Tom Piazza, 2008
“Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at The New Orleans Table” by Sara Roehen, 2009
“Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans” by Louis Armstrong, 2010
“Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Life, and Death” by Dan Baum, 2011
“The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square” by Ned Sublette, 2012
Louisiana by Erna Bordber, 2013
“Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas” by Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker, 2014
“New Orleans Boom and Blackout: One Hundred Days in America’s Coolest Hot Spot” by Brian Boyles (2015)