Madams and Musicians - Storyville, New Orleans

In 1897, New Orleans leaders created Storyville, the infamous red light district of New Orleans. For the next twenty years, Storyville was the legal center of prostitution in the Crescent City.

Storyville was the workplace of madams and prostitutes.  Patrons might spend an evening at Lulu White's Mahogany Hall or at Josie Arlington's place. Here, they encountered lavish furnishings, live music, ample amounts of alcohol, and sex for a price.

In addition to the sex trade, Storyville was a hotbed of music and musicians. Patrons wandering down Basin Street would come across Jelly Roll Morton, Manuel "Fess" Manetta, Tony Jackson, and maybe even a young Louis Armstrong. These musicians were expected to play everything from opera to ragtime. While jazz wasn't likely invented in Storyville, the collaboration and improvisation of these talented musicians helped shape and influence the music we know today.

Meet Your Tour Guides to the Red Light District

I welcomed three guests to the podcast this week, including a return visit by Pamela Arceneaux, author, senior librarian, and rare books curator at the Historic New Orleans Collection. Pamela's book, called the Guidebooks to Sin: the Blue Books of Storyville, was featured in episode #34.

In addition to Pamela, HNOC curators John Lawrence and Eric Seiferth joined us for a lively discussion. Together, the three of them help bring Storyville to life for us. We learn about the madams and the musicians, as well as the music itself.

Insider Knowledge: Did you know opera was as likely to be heard as ragtime? I didn't!

Along the way, we discuss the divide between establishments targeted towards the wealthy (white) clients, and black Storyville, home of simple cribs. We also explore the new HNOC exhibit Storyville: Madams and Music, and talk about the photos of Earnest Bellocq and the movie Pretty Baby, featuring a very young Brooke Shields.

All this and more in this episode of Beyond Bourbon Street!


You can find Pamela’s book at local booksellers, including Octavia BooksGarden District Book Shop and Maple Street Book Shop, as well as at The Historic New Orleans Collection. You can also find Guidebooks to Sin on Amazon.

Explore the Historic New Orleans Collection online and in person. They are located at 533 Royal Street, in the heart of the French Quarter.

Links and show notes for today's episode can be found at

Thank You

Thanks to Pamela Arceneaux, John Lawrence and Eric Seiferth for joining me today. Together, they helped paint a picture of New Orleans and Storyville during the late 1800s and into the 20th century.

Eli Haddow at the Historic New Orleans Collection made our discussion possible.

Kate McCreary hepled with the research into Storyville.

Finally, thanks to you for allowing me into your ears every other week. I truly enjoy sharing this city we both love!

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