Mardi Gras in New Orleans
In this lesson, students will learn the song “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” one of six lessons in the New Orleans Rhythm & Blues Unit. Students will play the clave part on claves and the horn part on recorders. Students will listen to multiple recordings of the song and discuss the variations in those recordings.
- Analyze the lyrics to both versions of “Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”
- Sing the lyrics of “Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”
- Apply the unique and special rhythms of a song.
- Identify parts of a song, such as verses and choruses.
- Identify chord structures and how combinations of chords are building blocks that constitute sections of songs.
- Play the clave and horn parts accompanying Preservation Hall’s recording of the early version of “Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”
- Perform in an ensemble with instruments.
National Core Arts Standards
MU:Cr1.1.K.b With guidance, generate musical ideas (such as movements or motives).
MU:Cr1.1.1.b With limited guidance, generate musical ideas in multiple tonalities (such as major and minor) and meters (such as duple and triple).
MU:Cr1.1.2.b Generate musical patterns and ideas within the context of a given tonality (such as major and minor) and meter (such as duple and triple).
MU:Cr1.1.3.b Generate musical ideas (such as rhythms and melodies) within a given tonality and/or meter.
MU:Cr1.1.4.b Generate musical ideas (such as rhythms, melodies, and simple accompaniment patterns) within related tonalities (such as major and minor) and meters.
MU:Cr1.1.5.b Generate musical ideas (such as rhythms, melodies, and accompaniment patterns) within specific related tonalities, meters, and simple chord changes.
Common Core State Standards
RL.K.4 Ask and answer questions about unknown words in a text.
RL.1.4 Identify words and phrases in stories or poems that suggest feelings or appeal to the senses.
RL.2.4 Describe how words and phrases (e.g., regular beats, alliteration, rhymes, repeated lines) supply rhythm and meaning in a story, poem, or song.
RL.3.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.
RL.4.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including those that allude to significant characters found in mythology (e.g., Herculean).
RL.5.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.
Teachers should review the history and life of Professor Longhair and the media resources in the lesson prior to teaching.
- PRESENTATION: Mardi Gras in New Orleans
- VIDEO: “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” – B Flat | About Mardi Gras in New Orleans | 1949: “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” | 1974: “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” | Preservation Hall: Mardi Gras in New Orleans – Key of G | Dirty Dozen Brass Band
- LYRICS: Lyrics: 1949, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” | Lyrics: 1974, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans”
- Response: Mardi Gras in New Orleans
- Display slide 3 of the presentation Mardi Gras in New Orleans and play the video “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” – B Flat. Have students listen to the song. Invite students to tap or move along to the beat. If students know the song they can sing along. Ask students: What songs do you listen to for celebrations, holidays, or family traditions?
- Tell students they were listening to the song “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” by Henry “Professor Longhair” Roeland Byrd. There are two songs originating from the era of classic New Orleans Rhythm and Blues that hold iconic spots in the New Orleans Mardi Gras music canon: “Mardi Gras Mambo” by The Hawketts and “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” by Professor Longhair. Mardi Gras is celebrated throughout the world. Each country, island, and city has its own celebrations, traditions, and Carnival music styles. These parades are part of Carnival season, which begins on January 6th, known as 12th Night, and culminates on Mardi Gras day.
- Build students’ background about Professor Longhair. Display slide 4 to show the video About Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Tell students Professor Longhair was born on December 19th, 1918 in the rural town of Bogalusa, Louisiana and died in New Orleans on January 30th, 1980. He moved to New Orleans with his mother when he was young. New Orleans is a port city, located at the bottom of the United States but the northernmost point of the Caribbean Sea. Professor Longhair’s music and style were influenced by musicians and travelers who brought records from Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. Professor Longhair’s style had an influence on Huey “Piano” Smith, Fats Domino, James “Sugarboy” Crawford, Art Neville, Allen Toussaint, James Booker, and Dr. John. To this day, he is a cherished musical icon in New Orleans and around the world.
- Display slide 5 of the presentation Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Play the video 1949: “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” by Professor Longhair. Have students listen to the original version of the song. Pay close attention to the rhythm played by the clave, the whistling, and the horn parts.
- Tell students that Professor Longhair combined Caribbean rhythms and the city’s rich African rhythmic heritage with the blues, boogie, and barrelhouse piano styles. “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” is a blues song, but it uses the 3+2 clave pattern. The clave is prominently featured in the mix of this recording.
- Model for students how to create a 3+2 clave rhythm by having students clap or play claves or rhythm sticks.
- Invite students to try the whistle part. An alternative to whistling is singing it with “La’s” or playing it on a kazoo. The whistle part is challenging, but have students give it a try to see how difficult it is for a musician to incorporate whistling in a song.
- Display slide 6 of the presentation. Play the video 1974: “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” by Professor Longhair. Have students listen to the rhythm (this version implies the clave rhythm but does not have a clave part), the whistling, and the horn parts.
- Compare the two versions of the songs with students. Ask students: What do you notice about the whistle parts? What do you notice about the horn parts? Notice that the signature whistle part is longer and more complex. The horn arrangements are also much more complex (a horn break that has been added into the second verse of whistling, which has become an integral part of the song). Also, the original version is in the first person “I want to see the Mardi Gras” whereas subsequent versions are now in the second person “YOU ought to go see the Mardi Gras.”
- Distribute the Lyrics: 1949, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” or the Lyrics: 1974, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” to students. Review the options below to see which musical experience best fits your class.
- Play the 1974: “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” version. Students will clap clave rhythms and sing vocals and replicate whistling parts on kazoos.
- Play the Preservation Hall: Mardi Gras in New Orleans – Key of G version. This version has a simpler horn arrangement than th 1974 Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the Preservation Hall Band has transposed the song to the key of G to make it easier for students beginning on recorders to play along. Reference the sheet music, Response: “Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”
- Perform the song as an ensemble. Evaluate students’ performance based on their participation in singing the lyrics and/or playing an instrument along with the song.
- Optional: Have students compare the two Professor Longhair versions of “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band version. Discuss the influence and importance of “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” during Carnival season. Break students into groups to brainstorm how to put their own musical twist on the song (lyrically, instrumentally, etc.). Students can perform or share their adaptations.
Used with permission. Portions of this work are based on the National Core Arts Standards Copyright © 2015 National Coalition for Core Arts Standards/All Rights Reserved – Rights Administered by SEADAE.
© Copyright 2010. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers. All rights reserved.
Davis Rogan, Curriculum Developer and Music Artist Liaison
JoDee Scissors, Content Producer
Meghan Swartz, Music Artist Consultant
Mark Braud, Music Artist Consultant