Adrienne “Shorty” Chancley was a resident of New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood who raised two daughters in her family’s home on Dumaine Street. In November 2006, when she died at age 32 of a heart condition, the New Birth Brass Band played for her funeral parade.
While jazz funerals are certainly not new in New Orleans, the number of women choosing to be “cut loose” to the sounds of a brass band has grown steadily since the late 1990s. Bass drummer Terence Andrews is the father of Shorty’s two daughters, but in general when a young person dies in New Orleans their family often chooses to honor them with a jazz funeral. Though the funeral parade may begin with a slow dirge, jazz funerals for the young proceed immediately to up-tempo, celebratory songs.
As the funeral procession approached the block of Dumaine Street where Shorty and her family lived before Hurricane Katrina, Shorty’s casket was removed from the hearse, and her oldest daughter lifted onto the casket. After performing a short dance, Shorty’s daughter was lowered down and the parade moved on toward the family home down the block. Upon reaching Shorty’s family home, the New Birth Brass Band transitioned out of the up-tempo “Casanova” and into a slow dirge, recognizing the significance of the location. The band then segued immediately into the upbeat “Didn’t He Ramble” as the procession moved down the block toward the Interstate 10 overpass.
Watch the jazz funeral proceed “under the bridge,” as locals call the overpass above Claiborne Avenue.
Once under the I-10 overpass, the New Birth Brass Band projected their instruments up at the underside of the overpass, using the bridge’s acoustics to increase the volume and intensity of their music. Shorty’s casket was once again removed from the hearse and held aloft while the crowd pumped their fists in the air and chanted the Mardi Gras Indian chant “Hoo Na Nae.” The crowd shook Shorty’s casket to the rhythm of the music, and then quickly moved back out into the street as the hearse departed for the cemetery.
Read a description of this funeral that began my article “Under the Bridge”: An Orientation to Soundscapes in New Orleans.