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Norman Smith Interview, Part 1
Cramer, Cheryl Q.W.
Topics Include: Life in Treme, importance of music, church styles, boundaries of Treme, music in his life, clubs, vegetable men, jazz funerals, church, schools
Smith is the president of Forget Me Knots Inc. and grew up in Tremé. He identifies two important aspects of the boundaries as being the people and the city government. He says Tremé goes from Galvez to Burgundy Street, and from Orleans Ave to St. Bernard Ave. Smith adds that the boundaries fluctuate over time and have expanded since he grew up there. Four generations of his family have lived on N. Robertson Street. He says that his neighborhood was full of musically inclined people and it was very prevalent in his upbringing. Multiple houses shared a common backyard where they would have cookouts, play cards, and the Batiste Batiste family would play music. He remembers the Batiste brothers playing on makeshift instruments which made a very unique sound and they recreated traditional hymns. A few professional musicians lived on Smith's block, including a tuba player. Smith recalls a dry-cleaning business around the corner from his house which would have dances on Friday and Saturday nights and play music. No one in Smith's family sang or played instruments, but they all enjoyed and appreciated it. He does not remember any specific music teachers, but he does know that many people were eager to give advice to up-and-coming young people interested in playing music. Smith remembers some benevolent associations and funeral homes in his neighborhood. Some traditional brass band musicians in marching bands and clubs grew up in Tremé playing music their entire lives. Some parading clubs he remembers are the Square Deals and the Tremé Sports. He spoke of the second-liners who wanted to maintain Tremé culture. Although his family was poor and could not participate in parading, they very much supported the second-line clubs. He talked about Jazz funerals and that when a member of a club died, the other members would hire a band for the funeral. Clubs would wear their traditional outfits at the funeral. If a musician died, then the family would hire a band. They played slow music on the way to the funeral but after the funeral, the music becomes very upbeat and there is a jubilant attitude. They play the hymns up-tempo, which can confuse uninformed people who come over and dance. These funerals are much faster and more rhythmic than they were. Smith says that before they played everything slowly out of respect and it was more sacred and spiritual. Smith then talks about the vegetable men. He remembers "Whistling George" in particular, who had a hand wagon with two large wheels. He had a distinct sound in his chants. Mr. Chaney was another who had several mules and wagons and a vegetable store. Smith would shine shoes in the French Quarter, but realized that he would make more money working for the vegetable vendors and got a job unloading watermelons from trucks. He quit, however, when the work became too heavy because of the size of the watermelons. Smith also remembers rag men who came by and bought old rags and newspapers. There was also Mr. Bill, an ice man whom Smith worked with for a while, but he was later fired for mocking him when he lost his voice from singing too much. Smith and his family went to St. Peter Claver Catholic Church because they were Roman Catholic. Some of his extended family members went to St. Augustine. He said the music at St. Peter Claver was not very exciting, but they had an excellent organist and there was also a choir. The mass was conducted in Latin which Smith could not understand, but he enjoyed the Gregorian chants. They sang standard black Catholic church hymns. He sometimes visited other churches with friends, which had very powerful Tremé voices accompanied by piano and sometimes guitar or drums. Smith's first attempt to be musically inclined was when he attended the Joseph A. Craig school, but it didn't work out. He said that he was an average dancer but couldn't sing or play any instruments.
MusicNightclubsMourning customsFuneral serviceChurchSchoolsNeighborhoods
Amistad Research Center; Tulane University Digital Library
Box 1, Item 9, Side 1, Treme Oral History Project collection, 1993-1994, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
Physical rights are retained by the Amistad Research Center. Copyright is retained in accordance with U. S. Copyright laws.