What to Expect from a New Orleans Funeral Service

New Orleans is vibrant. New Orleaners love celebrations and parades. And a New Orleans funeral service also exudes a celebratory funeral rather than a somber one. Jazz funerals in New Orleans celebrate the beauty of the afterlife. The funeral begins at a church or funeral home and proceeds to a cemetery. Mourners are accompanied by a band that plays music that starts off with a melancholy feel that turns into an uplifting tone, radiating hope and conviviality. 

With the same vibrant and enthusiastic nature of New Orleans funerals in mind, here is what you can expect while attending a New Orleans funeral. 

History of New Orleans Jazz Funerals

Jazz funerals of New Orleans are rich in cultural traditions. In West African culture, mourners express their sorrow loudly and vocally. By the end of the service, they laugh and celebrate, rejoicing in the spirit’s ascent into heaven. This aspect of West African culture found its home in New Orleans’s Jazz funerals with the music exemplifying a soulful blend of African and European influences. While this method of memorializing loved ones is still well-known in New Orleans, it is mostly restricted to honoring the passing of prominent community members. 

Procession and Parades

The procession is a way to memorialize the deceased while celebrating them with the jazz music they loved. The procession begins somberly at a funeral home or church and proceeds to the burial site. Mourners express their grief and sadness. Christian hymns are played during this time. 

After the body has been buried, the atmosphere changes. The band starts to play more cheerful music and the tone picks up. As it is believed that the body has at this point been “cut loose” from the earth, a celebration begins in which everyone is welcome to join the parade-like march in the streets.

First and Second Line

An essential part of jazz funerals is the first and second lines. The first or mainline is made up of musicians, family, and the deceased’s friends. These are the people who knew the deceased personally. The second line is formed by a large crowd who may not know the deceased personally. As the funeral proceeds, this line develops into a force of its own. Often, this line is made up of social club members who parade through the streets displaying the club’s name. Sometimes, people join these funerals to secure a brass band for their own funeral.

Funeral Umbrellas

If you should know one thing about New Orleans funerals, it is that a sea of umbrellas will usually be present, often decorated. This interesting fact is due to Louisiana’s often very hot weather. Mourners carry umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun while marching around in the streets. These umbrellas may also turn into props for dancing, a perfect celebratory touch for the vibrant service. 

Funeral Songs

Many funeral songs played at New Orleans funerals are specific to Jazz funeral traditions. The first walk is sorrowful with slow hymnals. As the funeral progresses, the music takes on a joyous feel.  Some popular funeral songs are listed below:

  • “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”
  • “Down By the Riverside”
  • “As I Lay My Burden Down”
  • “Didn’t He Ramble”
  • “Feel So Good”

What does a New Orleans jazz funeral entail?

Historically, Jazz funerals were restricted to musicians and prominent members of the community. Now, anyone can request a jazz funeral. Often, bands are available for hire so it is not hard to arrange a jazz funeral. If one becomes a member of New Orleans social clubs, most of them have their own jazz funeral traditions. Now, these funerals are common for youth who die under tragic circumstances, serving as a form of solace for the deceased’s family.

What should you wear to a jazz funeral?

Contrary to the traditional funeral attire, people are encouraged to dress casually for jazz funerals. The first line is more likely to dress up to pay respect to the deceased, while everyone else is free to wear casual clothes. Regardless of what one decides to wear, wearing black or neutral tones at a jazz funeral is considered respectful. 

How much can a jazz funeral cost?

It is customary to have a band, funeral service, and burial arrangements at a New Orleans jazz funeral. A basic jazz funeral, if you’re part of a social aid club, shouldn’t cost you much. The main cost is hiring the band. Though the final cost is determined by  the other elements chosen for the funeral service including the casket, funeral flowers, and etc. you decide on, you can expect to spend between $3,000 to $10,000 on a funeral. 


New Orleans celebrations are fascinating services and you can expect the same when it comes to a New Orleans funeral ceremony. Tourists and locals alike, look on at the funeral processions with excitement and awe. Rooted in the idea that a soul’s life is always worth celebrating, whether alive or after a soul has passed, these traditions have survived hundreds of years. Through its bold and brassy sounds, the jazz form of music has been a vehicle for expression for many years. An enduring symbol of life, death, and rebirth, the New Orleans jazz funerals celebrate a life well lived and the passage of a departed soul into a better world.

Sidney Bechet, the renowned New Orleans jazzman, once said, “Music here is as much a part of death as it is of life.”

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