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Austin Leslie Interview, Part 1
Clarence Jones Jr.
Topics include: Life in Treme neighborhood, Carnival season, Churches, Treme boundaries, school, music in his life, vegetable vendors, church, second line clubs, Mardi Gras Indians. Side 2 is blank.
Leslie is a chef and the interview takes place at his restaurant at 732 N. Claiborne Ave. Leslie defines Tremé as being from Esplanade Avenue to N. Claiborne Ave, to the end of Rampart St. to St. Peter and back to Claiborne. Leslie was born in the 7th ward and went to Joseph A. Craig school, where his music teacher was Ms. Martin. Leslie remembers the second-line clubs which he describes as beautiful marching clubs. They had benevolent aspects like raising money for funerals. Leslie says that the young people who come to his restaurant don't believe that he came from the projects. Leslie played sports growing up and wanted to go to Booker T. Washington High School. While preparing for his graduation performance at Craig School, Ms. Martin told him to go on stage and to just open his mouth, but to not let any sound come out. Although his voice was not his strength, Leslie played in a band in high school. He enjoys music, especially old Jazz. While growing up he went to Sanctified (or Spiritual) Churches, which had instruments like tambourines. He says they don't really exist as much as they used to. Leslie describes the 7th Ward as educational because he was in the middle of everything. He recalls "Dookie" Chase, Earl Palmer, and John Fernandez as music teachers. Music was important to his family so he felt very connected to it. when he was 7 years old he worked on Rampart St. His family got a radio in 1946, but before then he used to borrow from friends. His family had a "gooseneck" phone as well. Leslie talks about the vegetable men who would sing songs about their products. He remembers Simmons who sold peanuts and had a rhyme ending in "make you feel like a billionaire". The vendors came to peoples' driveways after buying products from the French Market. They would push wagons but later had trucks. Selling seafood was against the law at that time, so they would hide it in their trucks. If police found it and they didn't have the money to pay the fine, the policemen would just take the seafood for themselves. Leslie's grandfather worked in produce and had a wagon. His family bought fruit, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes and watermelon only. Because Leslie was Catholic, he went to a Corpus Christi Church in the 7th ward and then switched to St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, where he had his First Communion. it was traditional and did not have too much music, but he remembers the Baptist church one of his friends went to did-- there was always singing in the choir. There was also a second-line anytime someone died. "Dookie" Chase was a member of either the Jolly Bunch or the Square Deals--Leslie could not remember. Some clubs still exist today. They would go to Rampart St. to buy matching costumes and they formed like the Zulu club for social and pleasure. Another club was called the Poor Boys. His step-son is in a club that parades still. Leslies parents were separated and his father was from Phoenix. Although he didn't like the idea of his children marching, he could never stop them because their mother supported it and allowed them to. Leslie never really followed the Mardi Gras Indians because Carnival was a working day for him. He did go to the ball on Lundy Gras night and stayed up with the Indians to dress them up and drink. He always went to work the next day cutting chickens, and never had time to enjoy it. He remembers being afraid of the Skeletons club. The Baby Dolls were another group who dressed up, mostly in hot pink and baby blue.
Mardi Gras Indians
Amistad Research Center
Box 1, Item 8, 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.