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GoNOLA Guide to the Danny Barker Banjo & Guitar Festival

The Danny Barker Banjo & Guitar Festival will kick off its sixth annual year from Jan. 15-19, 2020.

Danny Barker festival
The festival takes place from January 15-19, 2020. (Photo courtesy of the Danny Barker Banjo & Guitar Festival)

When you think of New Orleans’ most important jazz musicians, who do you think of? Buddy Bolden, perhaps. Often credited as the inventor of jazz, many believe Bolden was the first to merge ragtime and blues.

Or there’s Jelly Roll Morton, who took the the city’s growing music style from the red light district of New Orleans’ Storyville to music lovers across the country. And, of course, you have to include Louis Armstrong. Satchmo’s massive talent and affable personality made him a leading figure in introducing jazz to the world.

But as jazz became increasingly popular across the country and globe, it fell on hard times in New Orleans. Jim Crow laws pushed many African Americans out of the South and into northern cities. As they left, NOLA’s musicians brought jazz with them to places like Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia.

One of these musicians that may not be on your list of influential jazzers is Danny Barker.

Danny Barker (Photo courtesy of the Danny Barker Banjo & Guitar Festival)

Barker was born in the French Quarter in 1909, into a Creole family of color that embraced music education and loved brass bands. Barker played banjo and, by the 1920s, he was touring the Gulf Coast, known as the “Banjo King of New Orleans.”

Like so many others at the time, he moved to New York City in the 1930s. He began playing the guitar and worked for decades with greats like Cab Calloway, Charlie Parker, and others.

But here’s why Danny Barker should be on your list. When he returned to New Orleans in the 1960s, he leaned on his childhood love for music education and started a church brass band, the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band. Barker went door to door, recruiting neighborhood children to join the group.

One of those children, Joe Torregano, explained, “That group saved jazz for a generation in New Orleans.”

Wynton Marsalis and Danny Barker (Photo courtesy of the Danny Barker Banjo & Guitar Festival)

Some of the talented musicians whose careers took off under his mentorship in that Fairview band include Leroy Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Kirch Joseph, Nicholas Payton, Shannon Powell, Lucien Barbarin, Dr. Michael White, as well as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band,  who are beloved by audiences in New Orleans and the country to this day.

Danny Barker passed away in 1994, but his name is one we should remember and celebrate here in the Crescent City. That’s why The Danny Barker Banjo & Guitar Festival will kick off its sixth annual festival Jan. 15-20.

There’s tons going on each day – from performances and parties to discussions and education events. See below for our top insider’s picks for each day of the fest.

(Photo courtesy of the Danny Barker Banjo & Guitar Festival)

Wednesday, Jan. 15, Patron Party

Banjo and guitar clinic at Bethune Elementary School (2401 Humanity St.), from 11a.m. – noon hosted by Jonathan Bloom with Don Vappie and David Bandrowski.

The Life and Legacy of Danny Barker: Great Music and Talk at the New Orleans Jazz Museum from 1 – 4p.m. Admission is $10.

Danny Barker Tells You All About It, 1p.m.-Award winning producer Fred Kasten presents an autobiography drawn from over 3 hours of interviews with Danny Barker.

Carnival Time – Danny Barker and the Music of Mardi Gras, 3p.m. – Trumpeter Wendell Brunious and an all-star band play carnival music associated with Danny Barker.

Pickin’ Pluckin’ and Strummin’ Barker Festival Banjo and Guitar All-Star Jam, 6p.m.-10p.m.  (1225 N. Rampart St.) featuring Don Vappie, Steve Masakowski, Seva Venet, Carl LeBlanc, John Rankin, Brian Seeger, & Detroit Brooks. Admission is $20

Thursday, Jan. 16 – Danny Barker Birthday Bash 8p.m-10p.m. at Snug Harbor

If you come out to celebrate Barker’s birthday at Snug Harbor Jazz Club (626 Frenchmen St.), you definitely won’t be alone. You’ll be joined by performers like  Dr. Michael White who played under the tutelage of Barker in the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band, as well as Gregg Stafford, Freddy Lonzo, Mari Watanabe, Glenn David Andrews, Kerry Lewis, Topsy Chapman, and special guest Yoshie Nakamura. Shows begin at 8 p.m. and admission is $20.

(Photo courtesy of the Danny Barker Banjo & Guitar Festival)

On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, attendees will have the opportunity to learn about the outsized influence Danny Barker’s life had on jazz music.

Jan. 17-International Barker at Xavier Center Ballroom, 4955 Drexel Dr., 8p.m. – 11 p.m. 

Xavier University presents a musical celebration of the international impact of Danny Barker’s legacy featuring guitarist Claude Carre’ and kora master Morikeba Kouyate plus special guests Dr. Michael White, and Xavier University president Dr. Reynold Verrett/clarinets, Joe Hall & the Cane Cutters, and Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes/accordions.

(Photo courtesy of the Danny Barker Banjo & Guitar Festival)

Saturday, Jan 18, Danny Barker Resurgent Band Parade, 11a.m. – 12:30p.m. Route TBA

The Resurgent band parade begins and ends at the New Orleans Jazz Museum.

Danny Barker and the Second Line at 12p.m., Matt Sakakeeny interviews Greg Stafford and Fred Johnson about Danny Barker’s lifelong love and commitment to second line and Social Aid & Pleasure Club culture, the controversy surrounding his funeral, and the birth of the Black Men of Labor organization.

The festival’s final day is one of its biggest! You can attend a lecture about the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band, join a second-line to Barker’s birthplace with the Hot 8 Brass Band, and enjoy more talks about Barker’s life.

Sunday, Jan. 19, Danny Barker Day Parade 400 Esplanade Ave.), 11a.m., route TBA

Celebrate the Crescent City’s official designated day of “Danny Barker Day” with a second line around the French Quarter led by the Hot 8 Brass Band

This is just a sampling of the programming set for the festival. You can check out the full schedule here, and click here to learn more about the talented musicians that will be performing throughout the week.

Matt is a freelance writer who has lived in New Orleans for nearly 10 years - though he understands that doesn't mean his Uber driver will call him a local anytime soon. He hiked the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2017, and is now writing a book about that journey, which you can read along with daily accounts of the bizarre adventures he gets into around New Orleans at matthaineswrites.com.

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