There are many jazz festivals, but none of them have the same pedigree as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. New Orleans is regarded as the birthplace of jazz, so the New Orleans Jazz Fest, as it is called, has always attracted the very best performers in the jazz world and beyond. This short list of five is just a glimpse of the musical talent that has graced the stage in New Orleans.
1. Duke Ellington. Duke Ellington strove to challenge musical boundaries, creating a distinctive sound that was formative for generations to come. As a bandleader, he led his orchestra for almost 50 years. Ellington is widely regarded as one of the founders of jazz, so his presence at the New Orleans Jazz Fest was pivotal in cementing its cultural prominence. In fact, Duke Ellington was one of the headlining performers the first year of the festival, which took place several years prior to his death.
2. Fats Domino. Fats Domino had a lot of success with five gold albums. Of his numerous songs, 35 went on to be Top 40 American hits. This popularity is widely attributed to his inventive style, which was a piano-driven rhythm and blues mix. He also relied heavily on brass and drums, making him one of the pioneering talents in the rock and roll industry. His work was so influential that other major musicians often credited him. Even the Beatles, who would revolutionize the music scene, based many of their songs off Fats Domino’s style.
3. Aretha Franklin. Aretha Franklin became one of the most famous R&B singers of all time. Her big break came in 1967, when she signed on to Atlantic Records. Under this label, Franklin released timeless hits like “Respect” and “Think.” With 20 number one hits, she earned the title of the Queen of Soul. During her career, she won 18 Grammys and has sold over 75 million records across the world. Her presence at the New Orleans Jazz Fest is a testament not only to her skill but also to the quality of the venue.
4. Bob Dylan. There are few songwriters as successful as Bob Dylan. During the 1960s, Dylan wrote a number of hits that fully captured the essence of that era. Hits like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’” are still considered to be some of the best songs of all time. Dylan became known for his blend of folk music and classic rock. But it is probably his lyrical choices that have made him the musical icon that he is today.
5. LL Cool J. LL Cool J is well known as an actor, but his roots are strongly musical. As a rapper, LL Cool J was instrumental in taking the genre to a more mainstream audience with hits like “Mama Said Knock You Out” and “Around the Way Girl.” By 2013, LL Cool J had released thirteen studio albums, and his innovation earned him a place on American Bandstand as its first hip hop act. His presence at the New Orleans Jazz Fest demonstrates the evolving scope of the event.
These five are just a sampling. The depth of musical talent over the years is astonishing. Discover the diversity for yourself by getting a ticket to next year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
The Best Performers at the New Orleans Jazz Fest