I'm writing about two funerals--hardly material for celebration. Yet here in New Orleans, a funeral can be as much a celebration of life as it is mourning for the dead.
Two local celebrities died last week, both of them closely connected to the New Orleans music community.
Eaglin jazz funeral; photo by Brett Duke, The Times-Picayune
The first was Snooks Eaglin, a blind R&B guitarist known for his virtuousity, who influenced many other musicians. This excellent article about Snooks includes a YouTube video of Snooks playing at his favorite venue, Rock 'N' Bowl, and simultaneously giving a music lesson to another local musician, George Porter, Jr. The video is vintage Snooks: he treats Porter--famous as a member of The Meters and considered one of the greatest living bass guitarists--like a newbie. (Porter was one of Snooks' biggest fans and loved playing sets with Snooks.)
The second celebrity we lost was Antoinette K-Doe, widow of Ernie K-Doe, who revived Ernie's musical career and reputation in his last years, kept his memory active after his death, and helped many musicians and others in the community.
Apart from their fame on the local music scene, Snooks and Antoinette had something else in common: Their funerals were held at nightclubs.
Snooks' funeral service at The Howlin' Wolf featured tributes, both verbal and musical, by numerous stars of the New Orleans music scene, and concluded with a traditional jazz funeral escort to the cemetery.
(From music writer Keith Spera's blog on the Times-Picayune website)
It was the Warehouse District nightclub's first funeral.
"We've had people laid out here before," noted Howlin' Wolf owner Howie Kaplan, "but they were still breathing."
Antoinette's wake was held at her own club, the Mother-in-Law Lounge, which she had made into a shrine for her late husband. Her funeral service was at a church, and she too had a traditional jazz funeral escort to her interment.
K-Doe jazz funeral; Photo by Keith Spera, The Times-Picayune
All the coverage of the events shows how much the funeral guests celebrated the lives of the deceased. There was sadness, but also joy and happy memories.