THE GREAT HALL: PERSEVERANCE SOCIETY HALL AND THE BEGINNINGS OF JAZZ
At 11:55 AM on August 29th, 2021, Hurricane Ida made landfall. Winds that topped 160 MPH started to make their way up the state of Louisiana from Port Fuchone. The Category 4 storm, the fifth strongest to make landfall in United States history, would keep its maximum strength for the next six hours. Four days earlier, tropical storm 9 began its rapid development into a storm whose remnants would produce over twenty hurricanes and mass flooding New Jersey and New York City on September 1st. By nightfall on August 29th, two million people in southeast Louisiana were without power and the City of New Orleans was now being pummeled by the relentless storm. Latoya Cantrall, mayor of New Orleans, stated that the rapid development of the storm left no time to issue a mandatory evacuation order for the city. Due to Ida making landfall on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Cantrall constantly reassured the security of the levee system which had been restructured since the catastrophic failure in 2005. A declaration of emergency had been issued by the federal government and Governor John Bel Edwards had warned residents that recovery from the storm could take weeks or months. The eye of the hurricane passed within 45 miles of New Orleans.
Twelve hours later, Ida had left Louisiana and the full extent of its damage could be seen. In Lafitte in Jefferson Parish, a barge had come loose and struck a bridge. A transmission tower had fallen into the Mississippi, adding a wrinkle to the storm recovery efforts. New Orleans wasn’t spared. Awnings were ripped off of buildings including the one belonging to the famous Jax Brewery building on Decatur street in the French Quarter. Several under repaired homes had completely collapsed and the telephone poles that lined the road connecting Orleans and Jefferson Parish were at a complete angle, blocking River Road. Several of the old mighty oak trees in City Park had been uprooted. The city would largely be without power for two weeks. However, in the heart of the Marigny neighborhood on North Villere street, a shabby half standing building withstood the storm. Ida was the second major hurricane that these four walls had been struck by in ten months (Hurricane Zeta’s eye had passed through New Orleans on October 30th, 2021 as a category 3 storm). Despite years of disrepair and neglect, the walls had withstood Hurricanes Betsy (1965), Hurricane Katrina (2005), and, now, Hurricane Ida (2021).
On a lot of just under one acre, the long rectangular building once known as Perseverance Benevolent Society Hall has long been abandoned to time. While Hurricane Ida hadn’t blown the walls down, the storm had crippled the structural integrity which had been questionable since Hurricane Katrina. The current owners of the property, the congregation of the Holy Aid and Comfort Spiritual Church of Eternal Life, noted that the building is largely held up by a neighboring tree and the back of the building, once home to a camelback, was completely opened to the elements, as of 2018. The facade stretching over the entrance has laid blank since the Church bought the building in 1949 after displaying “Perseverance B.M.A.A” since the facade's addition in 1927. Beneath the right front window is a plaque dedicating the property to the Church. Much like the building it is designating, the plaque is weathered but remains readable. Though the exterior is determined to withstand all possible weather events, the interior has been ravaged. What was once a large indoor hall with a stage was brought into ruin after Ida struck, so much so that the walls are unsupported, creating a fragile state that advocates worry could collapse at any moment.
The City of New Orleans is not known for its historical restoration projects. The Municipal Auditorium in Armstrong Park has been empty since it was flooded with approximately four to six feet of water during Hurricane Katrina. The legal battle between the City government and FEMA has been long documented and only left the building in a greater state of neglect. A final attempt to make the Auditorium the city’s new city hall was met with protests and the plans were abandoned. When plans for a Jazz National Park faltered, attempts to renovate the Kitchen Building at the historic Perseverance Masonic Hall No. 4 ceased and the Parks service terminated its lease with the City in 2018. Attempts to make the masonic hall a black musician hall of fame eventually ceased due to rising costs. The birthplace of Louis Armstrong was reduced to a small monument in front of the New Orleans Traffic Court. Jelly Roll Morton’s childhood home was restored by a private citizen who keeps a watchful eye on the historical landmark. Much of the famed Storyville neighborhood has been bulldozed and replaced with buildings housing lawyer’s offices and banks in the now-christened Central Business District. The latest hurricane had destroyed Karnofsky’s Tailor Shop, where Armstrong was given his first job.
However, the advocates for 1644 North Villere Street had accomplished a rare win for historical renovation in the City. The Greater New Orleans Foundation had contributed $60,000 dollars to the needed repairs of the barely standing wood building. The money would have fixed the back of the building, no longer leaving the interior open to the elements. A fence would have been constructed to keep looters off the property. Work would have been started to make the structure stand on its own once again without the reliance of a large tree to keep the walls upright. But, before work could be planned, Tropical Storm 9 quickly developed into Hurricane Ida and the result of the storm made the cost of repairs significantly greater than the $60,000 contribution, making advocates further alarmed that the building could imminently collapse.
Though now a shell, the walls of Perseverance Society Hall continue to retain significant cultural history. One hundred-forty two years old as of 2022, the hall is a physical remnant of the Perseverance Benevolent and Mutual Aid Association (PBMAA), the first such organization founded by free people of color. In discussing the Hall’s history, it is readily apparent that not only is the PBMAA an underappreciated part of the cultural history of the United States, Perseverance Society Hall is a significant landmark in the history of American Jazz music.
Benevolence societies were staples of urban culture across the United States. New immigrants were encouraged to register at organizations which would help them find housing, employment, and serve as lenders and insurers. Known as benevolent societies or mutual aid associations, an element of these organizations still exist in the United States, most prominently in the Chinese community which proliferated new Chinese immigrants across the country while also teaching many skills needed to gain employment immediately (many became chefs and worked at or were leased restaurants across the country). However, the unique history of New Orleans allowed benevolent societies founded by and for Creoles, or Free People of Color, the oldest of which eventually built the hall standing at 1644 North Villere Street.
Dates for the official founding of the Perseverance Benevolent and Mutual Aid Association (PBMAA) vary depending on the type of founding. The association was re-incorporated in 1892, but the facade of the hall states the organization formed in 1853. However, evidence dates the society forming seventy years earlier in 1783 which would make the PBMAA the oldest benevolent society in New Orleans history, placing it within the time period of Spanish Colonial rule.
Without Spanish law, it is likely that the PBMAA wouldn’t have been founded. Though much attention is paid to French colonial rule, the governance of Spain had a greater impact on the city of New Orleans due to Spain’s laws regarding slavery. The French Code Noir is considered to be a significant element in the creation of the Creole class, populated with mixed race citizens who were highly educated. However, under Spanish rule the Creole population was allowed to grow and flourish. From 1724 to 1764, the French Code Noir was enshrined in law. Unlike their British and Dutch counterparts, the French implemented restrictions on the behaviours of slave owners. Owners could not seperate families, ban slave marriage, nor engage in excessive punishments, though the law did include barbaric punishments for escaping slaves and slaves who struck their masters could be executed. However, the Code Noir did state that children who were fathered by owners were free as well as their mothers and slaves could be freed by the approval of the Superior Council or by death of the owner. Though the Code Noir required slaves to be given Sundays off, slaves were still limited to gather on their plantation. The French Code Noir was heavily influenced by Roman Catholic customs regarding slavery.
When France sold Louisiana to Spain in 1764, Spain replaced the Code Noir with Spanish governing law. Still a Catholic Country, Spain’s laws included many of the same elements of the French Code Noir such as banning the separation of families and the required Sunday off. But, Spain had more avenues to procur a slave’s freedom. Not only could a slave owner free their slaves at will, a slave could now petition a court for freedom due to poor treatment. Slaves could also gather with slaves from other plantations on Sundays. Most significantly, Spain allowed slaves to purchase their freedom through the process of manumission. Influenced by Spain’s history of Roman rule, manumission allowed a slave to buy their own freedom even over the objection of the owner. With this new law, slaves began to create markets on their days off in order to sell clothing, food, and play music in hopes of getting enough money to buy their freedom. When the governance of Lousiana eventually was given to the United States, these markets, which were spread across the city of New orleans, would be legislated to the back of the City in hopes that moving the markets away from the ports would discourage the slaves from gathering. Beginning in 1817, the Sunday slave markets would be relegated to Places Publique. The law spectacularly backfired as the weekly events at Place Publique (locally renamed Congo Square) would become a signature attraction for New Orleans. Though the Spanish were considerably more lenient in their laws regarding slavery, the multiple avenues toward freedom allowed the practice to become further engrained in the city.
Though Free People of Color still had restrictions on voting and marriage, they were given many rights upon being freed, one of which was the ability to own and operate a business. Creoles, as they became called, could also lend money, own property, educate their children, and attend social events. Though the United States didn’t have a version of the Code Noir, many of the members of the state and city legislatures in New Orleans were French descendants and continued to institute the French Code, though the city would eventually pass laws in line with the rest of the South by the outbreak of the Civil War. the PBMAA was the first of its kind; a benevolent society founded by and for Creoles. Mainly craftsmen, the society quickly gained prevalence in New Orleans, even leading the first Mardi Gras Krewe in New Orleans.
Originally called La Societé de la Perseverance, the PBMAA was one of hundreds of benevolent societies that became indispensable when the Freedmen’s Bureau was ended in 1872. In the absence of the Bureau, benevolent societies shouldered new responsibilities including lending and educational expenses. Organizations hired in house doctors who would treat their members for a low flat rate and pharmacists who would give a discount for members. Like modern day health insurance, members had differing tiers of coverage which mainly dealt with the number of doctors visits. Members were also punished with fines or banished from the organization if they were found in violation of the organization's guidelines, including not being at home when a doctor arrived. Even with these rules and regulations, it was not uncommon for the organizations to pay fellow members’ dues if they were behind in payments. Not only were members insured against unemployment, poor health, and death, the benevolent societies became political organizations, often raising money to pay for legal battles. The most famous legal battle was Plessy v. Ferguson where in the benevolent society not only paid legal fees but also helped strategize the years long legal battle.
Members were also privy to a tight knit community. In times of sickness, members would offer to clean each other's homes or provide food or take care of each other's children. Though their members were excluded from white society after the Civil War, the benevolent societies continued to have parties, balls, and, most importantly, parades complete with brass bands. By 1881, the societies were parading everyday, a tradition that continues . When Mardi Gras became segregated, benevolent societies would parade in black neighborhoods on Mardi Gras Day, the most famous of which is the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, creating a tradition of their own. By the turn of the century it was estimated that 80% of New Orleanians were members of a benevolent society and were well respected financial institutions, as reported by the Lousianan in 1881:
"It is a notorious fact that the financial systems of many of these organizations are better, and more honestly conducted than many of the banking and state institutions. Their solvency for years, and their ability to meet their legal demands are sufficient evidence to bear out these statements. The manner in which the sick are cared for, and the respectable internments are given to their dead, are acts not only worthy of note, but of special pride to the city."
The PBMAA, not unlike other societies at the time, was set on creating a gathering place where they could conduct membership meetings, have parties, and own as collateral. Built twenty-seven years after incorporating in 1853, the PBMAA placed the hall in the middle of the 7th Ward, a historically Creole neighborhood. This single story shotgun house became the center of the PBMAA’s activities, a three bay wooden frame was built on top of a brick foundation. Despite choosing a design that mirrored the houses in the neighborhood (single story shotgun houses continue to be in demand in New Orleans), the interior was distinct from any building nearby. Through the windows, the neighbors would have seen a great open floor from wall to wall with a small but prominent stage against the back wall, a rarity in dance halls. Victorian Era wainscotting lined the interior in dark mahogany. In addition to the massive hall, a service entrance was included. Renovations were done in 1927. A camelback addition was built to accommodate the administrative needs of the PBMAA. Much like the rare use of a musicians mezzanine, the camel back was built with side stairwells and a center spiral staircase which led to a second story landing and two small rooms. The front of the building was extended to the sidewalk and a parapet facade was added. The PBMAA painted the following on the facade:
Perseverance B.M.A.A., Organized Nov. 13, 1853, Reincorporated July 21, 1892, Under Admin. A. Harris 1921.
From 1880 to 1913, the Hall was the center of neighborhood activity. However, the PBMAA was constantly having financial troubles. One year after building the hall, the PBMAA sued its treasurer for $215 that went unaccounted. Unpaid taxes allowed the City of New Orleans to sell the property to James Lewis, Jr. for $23.75. Though Lewis eventually sold the property back to the PBMAA in 1923, he did so for $200. For the first time in the Hall’s history, the PBMAA procured a loan in 1927, likely to pay for the new facade and the camelback addition. Though the additions were completed, membership had rapidly declined after the PBMAA burdened itself with a $6,300 mortgage from the Service Building and Homestead Association. Modern insurance companies had come to prominence and communities no longer looked to the benevolent societies for help. By 1932, the PBMAA was selling its property to the Homestead association. Eight years after taking out a mortgage for $6,300, the hall and its contents were bought by Cecile Cagnolatti for a mere $1,400. Though Cagnolatti would allow the PBMAA to continue to use the hall for its functions, the association was in dire straits. The organization met less frequently and, though their facade continued to state their ownership, 1644 North Villere street was known as a printing shop which was run out of the former service entrance. In 1949, the hall was sold by the Cagnolatti family to the Holy Aid and Comfort Spiritual Church of Eternal Life without mention of the PBMAA. Led by Mother Conrad, the Church painted the facade blank. Unlike other New Orleans society halls, the Church resisted renovating Perseverance Society Hall, making it the only wholly original hall left in New Orleans. But, that resistance came with a price. By 2002, large portions of the building were unusable due to deterioration. The musicians mezzanine couldn’t be accessed from its stairs and plaster had fallen from multiple areas of the wall and ceiling. The costly camelback addition was poorly built and put much pressure on the atrium, leading the Church to ask for grants to repair or dismantle the addition before it collapsed. Despite owning the building for over fifty years, the Church didn’t have the funds to repair any of the deterioration. After Hurricane Katrina, the camelback became a hazard and needed to be removed. It was the only major work done to the property since 1927.
Currently, the hall stands in tatters, standing only by the guidance of a nearby tree. Its current owners are begging for grants to renovate the building to its functional self if not its former glory, but Hurricane Ida left many counting down the days until the historic building simply collapses. The PBMAA is long gone. The once powerful community organization was quietly dismantled through decades of fiscal mismanagement, from non-payment of taxes to taking out a mortgage to make costly additions while membership was dwindling.
Despite its untimely downfall, the PBMAA was among the most important cultural institutions in New Orleans. The benevolent and social aid societies that continue to exist in the city are focused on community activism and educational outreach. By filling the void left by the Freedmen’s Bureau, the benevolent societies helped create a thriving middle black middle class during a time of segregation and assisted in funding legal challenges to the racial laws in Louisiana in the first civil rights movement after the Civil War.
The Great Jazz Hall
Perseverance Society Hall was a multi-use facility for much of its history. But the chief use of the expansive interior was membership events. The design had even included a unique feature; a musicians mezzanine was built at the back end of the hall. Just as benevolent societies had taken on responsibilities to the community in the wake of the defunding of the Freedmen's Bureau, the PBMAA and others continued the social banquets once held to promote citizenship. The Economy and Mutual Aid Association had been the first hall to hire a brass band for its events, hiring the Eagle Brass Band (no association with the Eagle Band) to play the society’s dances. However, other societies quickly adapted and offered society nights with brass bands, usually hiring from within their own membership ranks. For example, the Eagle Brass Band contained two members of the Economy and Mutual Aid Association and their eventual replacement in 1909, The Peerless and Imperial Orchestras, was also fronted by a member of the association. Due to the constant outbreaks of Yellow Fever in New Orleans, benevolent societies were in constant need of brass bands for funeral parades, causing brass bands to become embedded in the fabric of New Orleans culture.
Unlike their peers who hired bands from the occasional parade or funeral, PBMAA had weekly events and membership dinners. Every Monday from 1pm to 6pm, the membership would meet at Perseverance Society Hall and after meetings and dinner, after which the tables and chairs would be moved and the dinner would shift into a dance. Though not much is known about the first musicians who worked at the Hall, the regular events made the Hall a cultural center for the 7th Ward. As the PBMAA was an African American society, very little information about the community events is available and most of the historical record of the hall comes from first hand interviews of those who lived nearby. However, the information that is available shows the Hall at a very unique position within the burgeoning New Orleans music scene.
During the “hot” music craze at the turn of the century, the PBMAA had lost much of its prestige and the position of Perseverance Hall placed it away from the center of the new music. Whereas Globe Hall and Economy Hall were located mere blocks from the French Quarter in the middle of the Treme neighborhood, Perseverance an extra half mile away from the city center and even further away from the multitude of halls and clubs opening in Storyville. Despite its position in the rapidly changing New Orleans culture, Perseverance Society Hall was still able to book top acts for its Monday banquets including Buddy Bolden and his band. Though Bolden was more comfortable at Globe Hall where he played regularly and had his exploits documented, Perseverance Hall was his next most comfortable venue in the neighborhood. His infrequent appearances at the hall inspired the residents of the neighborhood nevertheless. Paul Barbarin tells:
"I did remember hearing Buddy Bolden because Buddy Bolden was playing a…banquet at the Perseverance Hall…The Buddy Bolden Band was blowing and the people were dancing I imagine, having a good time, and my momma…said “That’s Buddy Bolden over there, he sure can blow”...That was around nineteen six or seven."
Barbarin’s mention of Bolden is the only time Barbarin speaks about Perseverance Hall despite knowledge that his father, Isidore Barbarin, played at the venue as well. An inclusion of Bolden with the Hall speaks to both the massive popularity and impact that Bolden had on New Orleans culture and the opinion of Perseverance Society Hall. Though not as prestigious as Economy Hall or Globe Hall, Perseverance Society Hall was simply a working venue for musicians and would sometimes hire younger bands and leaders to play their many events. One such band was the Superior Brass Band led by Bunk Johnson who played the hall regularly. Popular brass bands such as the Onward Brass Band also played the Hall and gave many younger musicians their first opportunities. It would have been with Onward Brass Band that Isidore Barbarin would have first played at the Hall. Once Bolden was arrested and committed to an asylum in 1907, his band rebranded themselves as The Eagle Band and continued playing at Economy Hall, Globe Hall, and Perseverance Hall. Though not as prominent as the other two downtown halls, Perseverance was part of the musicians circuit and saw the playing of all the musicians who came through the Eagle Band, including Joe Oliver.
Most of the information regarding Perseverance Hall has been lost since the organization became defunct. However, there is evidence that Perseverance Hall’s live traditional jazz music continued well after the PBMAA quietly declined. On July 18th, 1962, Curt Davis of the National Education Television network joined music historian Richard B. Allen to “[make] the rounds.” Davis was at the beginning of an impactful television career. He would eventually become vice president of programming for the Arts and Entertainment and won two Emmy awards during his tenure. Allen had already begun his massive oral history of New Orleans jazz. The pair visited Perseverance Hall No. 4 before heading to Dixieland Hall at 522 Bourbon street. Their final visit of the night was to 1644 N. Villere street to hear Paul Barbarin’s band. Barbarin, now a highly sought after drummer in New Orleans, had continued to play at the Hall where he heard Buddy Bolden play as a child on his front porch. His band included Ernie Cagnolatti on trumpet, who had many personal connections to Perseverance hall. His older brother Claiberre had likely played here with Bunk Johnson’s Superior Band as a drummer. Additionally, his aunt, Cecile Cagnolatti, was the owner of Perseverance Hall from 1932 until her death in 1938. When Ernie Cagnolatti moved to New Orleans in 1919, the Cagnolatti family became associated with the Barbarin family in Central City New Orleans, an association that continued through Ernie’s brother Claiberre Cagnolatti, who lived next to Rose Barbarin for decades. The downtown Barbarins had married into the Cagnolatti family in 1912 when Walter Barbarin married Francesca Fauria, a cousin of Cecile Cagnolatti. Walter and Francesca lived under a mile away from Perseverance Hall and Walter was a house raiser, the very type of worker who the PBMAA attempted to recruit into membership.
The ownership of Perseverance Hall by the Cagnolatti family proves more mysterious than insightful. In his interview with William Russell for the Hogan Jazz Archives, Ernie Cagnolatti doesn’t mention the hall or his Aunt despite knowing that his older brother Claiberre had played at the hall with Ernie’s mentor, Bunk Johnson. Also, there is no mention of any family members outside of his immediate family nor of his distant relationship to the Barbarins. Perhaps this is due to his Aunt owning the property as a widow and not passing the hall to any of her own children, but the exclusion of Cecile Cagnolatti begs more questioning considering the fact that Paul Barbarin regularly hired Ernie Cagnolatti to play Perseverance Hall, such as July 18th, 1962.
While the connection between the Cagnolatti family and the hall provides more questions than answers, it illuminates a reason as to the continuation of live music at the venue during a time when many older dance halls were shuttering their doors. As Cagnolatti owned the hall after or during the demise of the PBMAA, its fate wasn’t tied to a soon to be antiquated organization and could continue to function as a music hall. Also, since the Cagnolatti family was a musical family and was related to another highly regarded music family, the Barbarin family, musicians were certainly welcome to perform. Though the Barbarin family is significantly more famous, the Cagnolatti family can be traced to dozens of prominent New Orleans musicians and owned the longest lasting dance hall in New Orleans. Though none of the prominent musicians like Ernie or Paul Barbarin ever played Perseverance Society Hall on a weekly basis, they always returned and their presence continued to make Perseverance Society Hall a functioning music venue decades after its sale to the Church and its early influx of young familial talent created the facade of a developmental venue for bandleaders.
This reputation as a familial venue could account for the seeming embarrassment of so many prominent New Orleans musicians as there is almost no interview that mentions Perseverance Society Hall except for Paul Babarbin’s mention of Buddy Bolden on the occasional Monday Banquet. However, these musicians continued to play the Hall until the physical decline of the interior made performing a dangerous task. While Globe Hall shuttered its door in 1914 before a fire destroyed the building in 1918 and Economy Hall was similarly destroy by Hurricane Betsy in 1965, Perseverance Hall remained a steadfast member of the music scene. More research into the history of the Cagnolatti family is needed to provide a sufficient answer to the question of the hall’s omission from multiple interviews.
Currently, Perseverance Society Hall is in complete disrepair and is in danger of becoming forgotten. While there are a handful of articles every year in historical restoration or architecture trade journals begging the public for its assistance, no help has come. Just as the cultural memory of the hall was limited to one of the many venues in New Orleans, the building will soon collapse into history along with the Perseverance Benevolent and Mutual Aid Association. Despite its lack of recognition, Perseverance Society Hall, though severely hobbled, continues to stand in the 7th ward neighborhood it once served. Though the inside has become uninhabitable, the musician’s mezzanine still stands with echoes of New Orleans history surrounding the weak and fragile stage. The hall holds echoes of some of the most famous New Orleans musical families who frequently played the banquets. Isidore Babarin, the patriarch of the legendary Barbarin family, rose to prominence with the Onward Brass band on this stage. The Cagnolatti family owned the building where Claiberre Cagnolatti was working with Bunk Johnson enough to send for his little brother Ernie, who would go on to start Preservation Hall. Paul Barbarin continued to play the Hall where he heard Buddy Bolden for his entire career. Though the PBMAA rapidly declined after the turn of the 20th century, the Hall stands as a monument to the organization that supported the 7th ward while also creating a lasting footprint on New Orleans culture.
As other halls were slowly destroyed by fires, storms, or mismanagement and became lionized as a result. Though Perseverance Society Hall has outlasted Economy Hall by nearly sixty years, Economy Hall has been documented in critically acclaimed books compared to the near erasure of any recollection of Perseverance Society Hall. Globe Hall had been shuttered for four years before it burned down in 1918 when Perseverance Society Hall was sold by the city for unpaid taxes, but the exploits of Buddy Bolden at Globe Hall became a New Orleans myth. Perseverance Hall No. 4 is lovingly kept in Louis Armstrong Park and was once home to the famous New Orleans independent radio station, 90.7 WWOZ. No such attempt was made in regards to Perseverance Society Hall. One reason that the Hall has been largely forgotten by jazz historians is the name missing in Perseverance Society Hall’s roll call. Louis Armstrong is absent from the Hall’s history and much of New Orleans musical myth making is based around the city’s most famous resident.
Whatever the case may be, Perseverance Society Hall deserves a spot in the cultural memory of New Orleans. Even if the musical exploits of the hall were ignored, the PBMAA was a significant organization in New Orleans history as the first benevolent society founded by free people of color and the first organized element of Mardi Gras. After the defunding of the Freedmen’s Bureau, the PBMAA became the neighborhood’s social, communal, and political organizing body. The hall built by the PBMAA stands as a physical reminder of the historic association. But, musically, Perseverance Society Hall is a monument to the musicians who began their careers on the mezzanine, particularly those of the Barbarin and Cagnolatti families. Before Paul Babarin’s band featured Ernie Cagnolatti in 1962, Bunk Johnson’s Superior Band played the stage regularly featuring Ernie’s older brother on drums. Before Bunk Johnson, Paul Barbarin’s father Isidore worked with the Onward Brass Band at the Hall as that band rose in popularity to rival the Eagle Band who also played Perseverance Society Hall with their old leader, Buddy Bolden. The Barbarin and Cagnolatti clans were a significant part of the hall’s history, even becoming owners for a brief period.
Perseverance Society Hall may not stand for much longer. The next major storm may blow the walls away from the tree that is currently supporting the structure and it may collapse. Because of the imminent nature of its destruction, it is important to note the fascinating cultural history that is slowly eroding before the eyes of the 7th ward. So long as the building stands, a faint memory of the PBMAA remains until the walls finally fall and erase this vital link from the present to New Orleans jazz history. Mercifully, the 2022 hurricane season is forecast to be a relatively light affair with only two major hurricanes predicted to form, but it won’t take much for the weather-beaten walls of the hall to give in to nature and fall away.
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