New Orleans-born Grammy winner PJ Morton invites you to join him at a block party from 4 to 7 p.m. at 2309 First St. on Thursday (May 2). The free event is meant to draw attention to the tattered 19th-century Central City shotgun house that was once the home of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden.
In March, Morton formed a nonprofit corporation called the Buddy’s House Foundation in order to restore the historic property. The block party, which will feature entertainment by DJ G Que and producer extraordinaire Manny Fresh, is meant to call attention to the project and begin the process of fundraising.
Until recently, the house belonged to the nearby Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church, which is led by Morton’s parents, Bishop Paul S. Morton and Debra B. Morton.
In a March interview, Executive Pastor Donna Williams said that church officials were unaware of the humble property’s historic significance when they bought it more than a decade ago. Restoring the Bolden house has not been a priority for St. Stephen, which suffered a catastrophic fire in 2008 and is currently renovating the burned church building into a facility meant to provide early childhood and adult educational opportunities in the surrounding neighborhood.
On March 23 the city of New Orleans cited the church for allowing the Bolden house to become so run down that it was in jeopardy of demolition by neglect. Not long after, Greater St. Stephen turned the Bolden house and a neighboring shotgun over to the Buddy’s House Foundation in perpetuity. The church also committed $25,000 to the restoration.
Morton said that with input from the Preservation Resource Center, he plans to return the Bolden house to its original 19th-century state and open it to the public as a small museum to the trumpeter many consider the first bona fide jazz musician. Morton, who is the keyboardist for the popular rock band Maroon 5, said he plans to convert the neighboring shotgun house into a small recording studio and workshop where aspiring musicians can learn the business of music-making from visiting professionals.
With no known recordings of his music and merely one remaining photo, Bolden (1877-1931) remains a tantalizing mystery for roots music lovers. A new movie that depicts Bolden’s life opens May 3.
Doug MacCash has the best job in the world, covering art, music and culture in New Orleans. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram at dougmaccash, on Twitter at Doug MacCash and on Facebook at Douglas James MacCash. As always, please add your point of view to the comment stream.