Before there was Louis Armstrong, there was Charles Joseph Bolden, known musically as Buddy Bolden. Born in the heart of New Orleans on September 6, 1877, many often regard Bolden as the father of jazz, although the average music listener of today may not recognize his name.
Bolden began playing music at an early age, starting with the cornet. He quickly gained recognition and in the late 1890s, Bolden formed a band, Buddy Bolden’s Band, whose performances swept the New Orleans scene. The band captivated audiences across bars, dance halls, and parades in Uptown Storyville, a second red-light district on the other side of Canal Street from the more well-known Storyville district. Bolden’s performances were known for their lively, upbeat energy. He blended musical elements such as blues and gospel, which laid the foundation for the jazz genre known today.
Tragically, Bolden’s promising career was cut short by several psychotic episodes, which were reportedly perpetuated by drinking and the pressures of performing. In 1907, he was institutionalized at Louisiana State Asylum, where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Bolden died November 4, 1931 from cerebral arteriosclerosis. He was 54.
In 1998, Bolden’s childhood home, the Buddy Bolden House, located at 2309-2311 First St. in Central City, was designated a National Historic Landmark. The home has been allowed to deteriorate for years, and was cited by the city for “demolition by neglect” in late June this year.
Despite his short career, jazz legends such as Louis Armstrong gave Bolden credit as a source of inspiration for their careers.
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