I saw this article about Jazz funerals in New Orleans and thought about blogging about it. I remember when Ed Bradley past and they did the jazz thing for him. It was some what different and, I have never thought about how New Orleans did funerals. But I also know that they have a lot of crazy stuff that go on in that city. They believe in roots and putting hexes on people. I once visit that city a couple of years a go, and personal I don't care for it. It seems to have a demonic presence to it. In other words I didn't like the feeling that I got from that city.
Louis Charbonnet's mortuary business focuses on high drama and style, operating one of the only antique horse-drawn hearse services in town. It's what adds flavor to the New Orleans tradition of jazz-style funerals filled with street parades and brass bands.
"People join in (jazz funerals) spontaneously," said Charbonnet, who has worked in the funeral trade more than 50 years and owns Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home. "... You have the handkerchief flyin', butt shakin' and everything else that goes on, including pouring a little liquor on top of the casket."
But these days the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina and the departure of the city's majority African-American residents has raised concerns for Charbonnet and other black funeral home owners like him.
Many black funeral directors and morticians who struggle to hang on say they were shut out of the recovery effort due to the limited subcontract work for the recovery and burial of bodies after Katrina. The state contracted directly with Kenyon International Emergency Services in planning the recovery effort. Kenyon coordinated the response teams, many of which handled the
1,080 bodies counted in Katrina's death toll.
None of the 14 black funeral homes in New Orleans received any subcontracts from Kenyon to bury storm victims. The only business they got was through families they had serviced prior to Katrina or by word of mouth.
In addition, the trend of corporate acquisitions pre- and post- Katrina continues to present a growing threat for many small independent black funeral home owners. Service Corporation International, parent company to Kenyon, is one of the largest funeral home chains in the country.
Hall Davis, president-elect of the National Association of Funeral Directors and Morticians, said the tradition of jazz-style funerals in a Mardi Gras atmosphere is one of a kind. The association represents about 2,300 black funeral homes across the country.
"New Orleans is probably the most unique place in the world with (black funeral) customs passed on from generation to generation," he said. "It is going to take a lot of money to reproduce something that was naturally there."
Many black funeral parlors are family owned and provide a sense of history and personal touch to their generations of customers. They are among the last types of social institutions, including black churches, beauty salons and barber shops, that cater to the African-American community.
"If you go to a white funeral home, you will have a funeral service and you will be treated fairly and properly, hopefully," said Renard Boissiere, who has worked in the business 30 years and owns Boissiere-Labat Family Funeral Services in New Orleans. "But when we (black funeral directors) do our funerals, we become part of the family. It's hard to explain when you have a feel and a culture for it."
But many black funeral directors and morticians said they are disappointed they were not more involved with the recovery effort.
The state hired Kenyon to organize the recovery and burial of bodies after Katrina. The company also provided services at the World Trade Center in New York and after the tsunami in Thailand.
Officials at the state's office of minority affairs said they were unaware of any concerns of black funeral directors.
In the months after Katrina, many black funeral parlors had served a smaller customer base because so many black New Orleans residents evacuated and scattered across the country.
New Orleans' pre-Katrina population stood around 500,000, and city officials estimate only 189,000 have returned.
For Arthur Hickerson, owner of Heritage Funeral Service, business has increased. He makes several trips a week to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport to pick up "ship-ins," bodies sent back home by loved ones to be buried. Many have died from Katrina- related stress and health problems.