Heart of Louisiana: Dew Drop Jazz Hall - FOX 8, WVUE, fox8live.com, weather, app, news, saints

Heart of Louisiana: Dew Drop Jazz Hall

MANDEVILLE, La. - In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, jazz musicians from New Orleans would often travel across Lake Pontchartrain to play at Mandeville's Dew Drop Jazz Hall. And now, more than a century later, little has changed with the building or the type of music that's heard. FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us to this St. Tammany Parish landmark in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.

If only these old walls could talk. If only they could sing. The cypress plank walls, the open windows haven't changed in the 118 years since the Dew Drop Social and Benevolent Association built the hall in the town of Mandeville.

"It was a social hall," said Lynn Mitchell, with Friends of the Dew Drop. "This was the center of the African-American community around here for a number of years."

Known as the Dew Drop Inn, it has hosted dances and performances from some of the better-known jazz musicians of the day. The old building has a fascinating connection to jazz. It was built in 1895 - the very same year that some scholars believe jazz was born in New Orleans.

"The thing that makes it so fascinating to real jazz buffs is this was where anybody who was anybody played," Mitchell said. "Probably the most popular band was the Buddy Pettit band. Lewis Armstrong had family in the area, and it's known that he played here."

The property was donated to the city of Mandeville in the year 2000, and since then, the Dew Drop has been returning to its roots.

"Mandeville loves its history," said Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere. "And of course this is one of the most historic sites in St. Tammany Parish. It's certainly worth acquiring, preserving and using as to its original intention - to provide good jazz music to entertain the community."

The Dew Drop now hosts seasonal concerts on Friday nights with performers like Deacon John.

"The best thing about playing at a historic venue like this is that you feel the spirits of your ancestors permeating the room," Deacon John said. "And it's such a spiritual force so that you are connected with the music of the past.

"Satchmo was in there with me, and so is my grandfather John Boudreau who played banjo with the Moonlight Serenade. He probably played over here, too. He played with A.J. Piron and all the jazz luminaries back when he was coming up."

The walls are crooked and full of cracks, but the weathered boards are acoustically alive. Patrons sit on benches and hear the sounds of jazz, blues and swing and experience the shared history of the music and the building.

"They restored it to its original elegance and charm, and by doing that, they kept the spirits alive in this place," said Deacon John.

Spirits that still move people to clap and sway, and sing and smile. The walls still echo the musical magic of the Dew Drop Inn.

If you'd like to attend one of the concerts at the Dew Drop Jazz Hall in Mandeville, click here.

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