|The Dew Drop Hall|
The story of the Hall begins on 5 May 1885, when local African Americans created The Dew Drop Social and Benevolent Association - aiming to provide help to the sick and the needy.
The Association built the hall from cypress timber nine years later - and opened it in 1895. Its foundations were simple brick piers (a wise choice for flood protection at the time). The pier at the front on the left still bears the original inscription (now barely legible).
The walls were covered with weather-boards at the front, and batten on the sides and rear; and they were originally painted green. The carpenters created the large wooden double-door at the front gable end, and a smaller door on the right at the back. There was an open beam ceiling. It was essentially a one-room structure, available for meetings, celebrations, vaudeville, dances and so on. It became the centre of social life.
Lamarque Street is to this day a quiet sparsely-populated, leafy, narrow road.
There were three landing-places for the boats on the shoreline - from east to west the Camellia Landing (destroyed by fire in 1912), the St. Tammany Pier (destroyed by fire in 1926), and the Lewisburg Landing (at the Lewis Plantation). The bands brought plenty of fans with them: Mandeville was considered a fashionable resort. It had several bands playing in various venues, including pavilions, the hotels and local park.
Pretty well all the famous early jazz musicians played at The Dew Drop Hall. Buddy Petit, Bunk Johnson, Kid Ory, Tommy Ladnier, Louis Armstrong, Papa Celestin, Sam Morgan, Chester Zardis and George Lewis were among them. Local man Isidore Fritz - according to such witnesses as George Lewis one of the best jazz clarinet players of all time - was a regular there, leading The Independence Band, which was hugely popular. He had Tommy Ladnier on trumpet and Edmond Hall on clarinet. Isidore's two brothers also played. What a pity the band was never recorded (or even photographed, it seems). Fritz was unwilling to cross the Lake to play in New Orleans. Why? Because he was doing very nicely in Mandeville and also had a family building business there. Fritz died in 1940.
Lillian, the wife of banjo-player Buddy Manaday (of Buddy Petit's Band) later recalled that white people as well as black attended and they all got along well together. Petit's Band, by the way, played at many venues in the region - including at Bogalusa, Pensacola and Moss Point.
By the 1920s and 1930s, the Hall was a major centre for jazz concerts. Wooden benches provided limited and basic seating for about 100 people.
But - how sad! - as fashions and customs changed, the young were no longer interested, the Dew Drop Association ceased to exist and the Hall was virtually abandoned in the mid-1940s. This state of affairs continued for about half a century.
What amazing luck that nobody knocked the building down! All the other similar dance halls of its era were demolished or changed hands and acquired new uses or (like The Sons and Daughters Hall - also in Mandeville, on Lake Shore Drive) burned down.
The overgrown plot was bought at auction in 1993 by Jacqueline 'Jinx' Vidrine. She might have been expected to demolish the building and erect a modern house there; but she was a jazz enthusiast and knew what she was doing. She cleared the plot and investigated the building. She even found an old upright piano inside.
Jacqueline dreamed of re-opening the Hall as a jazz venue or museum. After some years, she managed to get the local Parks Service interested. By 1999, a first concert was possible! Mayor Eddie Price and the Mandeville Council recognised the importance of the property and bought the plot of land from Jacqueline. She herself donated the Hall to the community. Funds had been raised, including donations from the English.
There had been a plan to transport the Hall to a site in Louis Armstrong Park, New Orleans. But the Mayor of Mandeville was easily convinced that the Hall should stay where it was. In 2001 the Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 'official' re-opening was on 5 May, 2002. In 2006, two members of the Mandeville City Council led a campaign to create The Friends of Dew Drop - a non-profit organisation. There had to be a little refurbishment (at a cost of about 25,000 dollars), but they ensured it was entirely sympathetic with the original design of the Hall. Here is how the Hall looked in Lamarque Street when I visited. Note the (inevitably moss-covered) tree in front of it.
Concerts featuring the best of local musicians are now put on fortnightly in the Spring and Autumn. There are string bands, jug bands and various similar groups as well as traditional jazz bands.
The band performing when I was there included the great Gregg Stafford and Michael White and the outstanding young bass player Tyler Thomson.
There was even a brolly parade.
|Just inside the entrance door|
|Jacqueline Vidrine -|
the driving force in preserving the Hall
|The Shotgun Jazz Band|
performing there in 2014
Three days after the Gregg Stafford concert, the great Tuba Skinny played at The Dew Drop Hall. A video showing one of the tunes they played can be seen by clicking on here.
Just in case you may be interested to know which tunes were played when I was there for the Gregg Stafford concert in April 2015, the programme was:
We Shall Walk Through The Streets of the City
Bye Bye Blackbird
Golden Leaf Strut (final strain of 'Milneberg Joys')
When You're Smiling
Burgundy Street Blues (Michael White feature)
You Always Hurt The One You Love
Baby Won't You Please Come Home
Creole Love Call
Just a Little While To Stay Here
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
When The Saints Go Marching In
Long may The Dew Drop continue!