On Nov. 9, 2006, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band received the National Medal of Arts, the highest award granted by the U.S. government to those who contribute to the expansion and availability of the arts. 

As traditional New Orleans jazz music began to fade in the 1950s, there were a limited number of venues to hear it. New Orleans jazz musicians and fans found themselves without a home. One of these fans, Larry Borenstein, owned a small art gallery at 726 St. Peter St. and decided to utilize his space for jazz rehearsal sessions to fill the void.

Eventually, the rehearsals transitioned to nightly performances, supported by donations and managed as a family business under Allan Jaffe and his wife Sandra, who assumed ownership from Borenstein.

Thus, Preservation Hall was born. The Hall served as a melting pot for musicians of all races to join together through their shared love for jazz, despite the racial tensions that stifled the Jim Crow South.

In 1963, Jaffe expanded his mission for growth by organizing the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The band went on a worldwide tour and became a global phenomenon, reaching as far as Japan.

After his death, Jaffe’s son, Ben Jaffe, assumed leadership of the venue and is the Hall’s current creative director. Ben and his mother Sandra accepted Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s 2006 National Medal of Arts award from President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush.

According to the National Endowment for the Arts, the citation reads, “With enormous talent and pride, this ageless ensemble has toured the world displaying the unbreakable spirit of New Orleans and sharing the joy of New Orleans jazz with us all.”

In 2011, the Preservation Hall Foundation was established to “protect, preserve, and perpetuate the musical and cultural traditions of New Orleans.” The foundation’s legacy program was created four years later to recognize and honor the contributions of musical culture bearers in the city. Through the legacy program, longtime Preservation Hall musicians are provided financial assistance, retirement assistance, health care assistance and emergency funds.

In 2020, Preservation Hall received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Folk Alliance International, in honor of the venue and the band’s collective efforts of jazz culture preservation and legacy.

Preservation Hall hosts performances 360 nights a year. On any night, you can find a band made up from Preservation Hall’s musical collective, which includes 60 musicians, some of whom are family members of previous Hall musicians. A version of the band also conducts tours throughout the year.  

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Shannon Stecker is a creative writer, a marketing director, and a lover of stories. She has spent the past 15 years of her career in a creative space – as a print and broadcast journalist, a freelance...