Wednesday, April 24, 2019
By Michael M. Redmann, manuscripts cataloger

In 1972 the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation produced its third annual festival, which included several nights of performances at various venues and the three-day Louisiana Heritage Fair, the outdoor portion of the festival featuring a mixture of local food, crafts, and music.

After being hosted for two years in a section of what is now Louis Armstrong Park, the event’s growing popularity necessitated a move to the infield of the racetrack at the much larger 145-acre Fair Grounds in 1972. Organizers had to prepare numerous behind-the-scenes details to make the event happen the weekend of April 28–30. Winston C. Lill, a New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation board member from 1971 to 1988, preserved in his personal papers, held by THNOC, some records of how things were done.

The Fair Grounds site plan, Jazz Festival ’72 by Curtis and Davis. (THNOC, gift of Winston C. Lill83-27-L.2.5)

A press release from February 3 announced the new location at the Fair Grounds and described arrangements for booths for food and crafts. It also highlighted some of the top musical stars scheduled, including B. B. King, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Kai Winding, and Al McKibbon.

Video footage shows B.B. King performing at Jazz Fest 1972. This video has no sound. (Jules Cahn Collection at THNOC, 2000.78.4.115)

Lill’s papers also include plans for how organizers intended to make use of their spacious new digs, drawn up by the architectural firm Curtis and Davis. The plans, dated February 10, show the arrangement for public parking in the Fair Grounds lots (which could handle 4,000 cars, according to another note), the entrances for the public and for festival participants, and the locations of booths, tents, and the five stages. Each stage was 15 feet square. The Lill papers even reveal the arrangements made for renting portable toilets. On March 23 he sent out letters to local businesses requesting bids for supplying 20, 30, or 40 units. (Our records can’t confirm the ultimate toilet count.)

Mayoralty permit for “New Orleans Jazz Festival” (THNOC, gift of Winston C. Lill, 83-27-L.2.9)

Another piece from the collection, a mayoralty permit, shows that on March 28 staff paid $25.25 for permission to host a portion of the event. An April 3 press release announced ticket sales locations and prices: daily admission was $2 for adults and $1 for students and children. Once events were in progress, the staff continued to coordinate necessary details, such as making sure to send someone to the airport on April 29 to meet Delta Flight 124 and pick up B. B. King. The blues legend took the stage just hours after his plane landed in New Orleans.

Note regarding B. B. King’s flight information (detail) (THNOC, gift of Winston C. Lill, 83-27-L.2.10)

The Jazz and Heritage Foundation has produced the annual festival at the Fair Grounds another 46 times since then, although the logistics—especially for this year’s 50th anniversary—have become a great deal more complicated since 1972.

For more on the New Orleans music scene, visit THNOC's virtual exhibition New Orleans Medley: Sounds of the City.