Preservation Hall Lessons – New Orleans, the Birthplace of Jazz – Congo Square, New Orleans Jazz and its African Roots

New Orleans, The Birthplace of Jazz

GRADE: 6-8
SUBJECT: Music, History, Culture
TOPIC: New Orlean History
DISCIPLINE: Music General


In this lesson, students will research and gather information on the history and culture of New Orleans Jazz and its African roots. Students will create African folk art to tell a visual story of New Orleans ‘ history. 



  • Research and gather information about the origin of New Orleans Jazz in the district of Storyville.
  • Summarize how African, Caribbean, and European cultures contributed to the creation of New Orleans Jazz.
  • Describe Congo Square and its connection to African slaves. 
  • Create African folk art.
  • Write artist statements describing the historical context and meaning of an original art piece. 



National Core Arts Standards

Music – Anchor Standard 8 Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
Music – Anchor Standard 11 Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.
Visual Arts Anchor Standard 2 Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.  

Common Core State Standards

RI.6.1 Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
RI.7.1 Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
RI.8.1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.



Students should have some familiarity with U.S. history, slavery, and genres of music. Teachers should review the lesson resources, media, and websites prior to launching the lesson. Students with disabilities may benefit from Adaptive Movements in this lesson.





  1. Display the historical Congo Square image from slide 3 of the New Orleans, The Birthplace of Jazz. Hold a class discussion or ask students to “turn and talk” about each image. What historical context can you infer about the image? What key ideas can you construct from the image details? 

  1. Share with students that they are going to explore the history of New Orleans Jazz through art, research, and music. Ask students: What do you know about New Orleans Jazz?

  1. Give students a brief introduction to colonialism and how the United States acquired New Orleans. Tell students that the city of New Orleans was founded in 1718 by the French Governor, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. The state was governed under French colonialism until 1763. Ask students: What is colonialism? In 1763, Spain won control of the state but in 1803, under Napoleon, New Orleans was sold to the United State government as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Despite all the changes in power, New Orleans’ language, customs, and code of laws were always French.

  1. Introduce the importance of Congo Square to New Orleans music by watching the Congo Square Drum Circle (2016) video on slide 4 from the presentation, New Orleans, The Birthplace of Jazz. As students view the image and listen to the music, ask students to generate a list of questions that come to mind during the listening session. Ask students: What questions do you have about Congo Square, the setting, the people, or the music? What is the relationship between the video and the historical image we analyzed at the beginning of the lesson? The singing, dancing, and music became so popular that people would flock to Congo Square from all over the countryside to see and hear the African drums, gourds, Pan flutes and marimbas. Musicians played the rhythms of African Bamboula drumming, Caribbean rhythms, tambourines and triangles. 

  1. Tell students that Congo Square was an important gathering place in New Orleans for enslaved people. Display slide 5 from the presentation, New Orleans, The Birthplace of Jazz, to play the video, Congo Square. Have a class discussion about slavery. Ask students: What do you know about slavery? What was life like for enslaved people? Give students a brief introduction to slavery in New Orleans. Tell students that during the French and Spanish colonial periods in the 18th century, Africans were captured, enslaved, and imported into America. New Orleans was a key trading post for all kinds of goods, including slaves. Slaves were forbidden to congregate, under laws known as “Code Noir”. They were allowed one day off, however, and every Sunday while owners attended church, they began to gather in Congo Square to socialize. people danced Quadrilles and the Habanera. The rich blend of all these cultures grew into a unique sound that ultimately made New Orleans the birthplace of Jazz.

  1. Tell students that enslaved people created their own instruments influenced by their homeland. Display slide 6 from the presentation, New Orleans, The Birthplace of Jazz, to play the video, Instruments in Congo Square. Ask students: How did the cultural memories of enslaved people impact New Orleans music?



  1. Tell students they are going to work collaboratively to research and gather more information about Storyville and Congo Square. Show students the capture sheet, New Orleans Jazz Research, on slide 5 of the presentation, New Orleans, The Birthplace of Jazz. Have students research and gather information using the following resources: Storyville District Article and Congo Square Article. Allow students time to research and collaborate with their peers to locate historical facts. 


  1. Have students share the facts they gathered. Allow time for students to probe and reflect on one another’s research.


  1. Display images on slides 6-8 from the presentation, New Orleans, The Birthplace of Jazz. Tell students that illustrator, R. Gregory Christie, used a vibrant African folk art style to visually tell the story “Freedom in Congo Square.” Ask students: What do you notice about Christie’s illustrations? How can art tell a story? Tell students that Christie mixes realism, abstraction, and folk-art elements to visually story tell. Share the video of Christie doing a live demonstration from “Freedom in Congo Square” in the article, Drawing Black History: 4 Children’s Book Illustrators Show Us How, to gain additional perspective


  1. Tell students they are going to pair original African folk art with their New Orleans Jazz research. Have students refer to details from their capture sheet, New Orleans Jazz Research to begin planning. Ask students to brainstorm 3-5 historical elements they want to include in their art piece. Model for students how to plan and begin the art-making process. Describe Christie’s use of vibrant colors to enhance meaning and express mood. 


  1. Provide students with a variety of materials to create original African folk art, such as paint, markers, crayons, or digital illustration software. Allow students and a few days to work on their projects. Confer with students to provide constructive feedback and give students an opportunity for peer feedback. 


  1. Have students write an artist statement, noting the 3-5 historical facts integrated into their work and their approach to creating original African folk art.


  1. Have students present their original African folk art pieces to the class. Allow time for classmates to ask questions. 



  1. Have students reflect on their knowledge of New Orleans Jazz and Congo Square history with the following writing prompt: Describe the history and cultural origins of New Orleans Jazz. How did Congo Square help enslaved people foster their African heritage?


  1. Design an art gallery. Pair students’ writing prompts with their original art piece then display them around the classroom or building. Invite other teachers and students to view the art gallery and learn about the history of New Orleans Jazz. 




Wikipedia. 2020. Congo Square. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. 2020. Timeline of New Orleans. Retrieved from 



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.

Louis Ford, Curriculum Developer and Music Artist Liaison
JoDee Scissors, Content Producer
Meredith Sharpe, Adaptations Writer



Animated GIFs