Heart of Louisiana: Davell Crawford’s ‘Down by the Riverside’

Updated: Sep. 29, 2020 at 9:45 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - It’s a new performance of the old gospel song “Down by the Riverside” that conjures up images of paddle-wheelers on the mighty Mississippi River. The music comes from New Orleans piano great Davell Crawford, who visited a historic church turned downtown hotel.

“You can almost listen to it and you can feel the paddle wheels and hear the paddle wheels on the Mississippi River,” says Crawford.

Crawford made a triumphant return to the crescent city to record a gospel classic. He made the recording only weeks before a pandemic and social justice issues would change America.

“I’m going to lay down my burdens down by the riverside to study war no more. It means that we want peace but we also wanted something. Speaking of the river, something driving.”

Do you think the old song “Down by the Riverside” takes on any new meaning in the year 2020 with everything that’s going on right now?

“Little did we know that we would be in the situation that we are in. So just after I recorded it, it took on another meaning,” says Crawford. “We don’t want any stress. We want people to get along. We, you know, we want a better way. A better way of life for ourselves. That’s really what it means to me right now.”

The voices echo off the high plaster walls and ceiling of the old Saints Peter and Paul Church in New Orleans.

“It was absolutely magical. I mean, all of us here are big fans of Davell and his music. And then the choir that was with him, it just made the place come alive,” says Nathalie Jordi.

Jordi, who lives in the neighborhood, bought the abandoned 160-year-old Catholic Church and school and reopened it as a hotel bar café and event hall.

“This was originally the seat of the Irish Catholic community downtown. We love the peeling plaster, the soaring stained glass windows. We felt really lucky actually that the archdiocese kept the stained glass windows and the side altars and did not remove them. So, we wanted to kind of freeze it in time and display it the way we had encountered it.”

When grand piano maker Steinway asked for Crawford to record a song on one of their instruments. He chose this classic setting.

“It’s still a very spiritual place, a very sacred place. You can feel it when you walk in. Definitely when you visit, you will know all of those prayers and all of those songs, and it’s still in the wood, still in the walls, still in the plaster of that building,” says Crawford.

And now these walls reverberate with Davell Crawford’s joyous musical gift to his hometown.

The Hotel Peter and Paul is located in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans.

Watch Davell Crawford’s full performance of “Down by the Riverside” below.

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