Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Dew Drop Dance Hall

The amount of research conducted by Dr. Karl Koenig on the jazz history of New Orleans and vicinity is astounding, and no where is this more evident than in his lengthy revelations about The Dew Drop Dance Hall in Mandeville. 


The Dew Drop dance hall is located at 430 Lamarque St. in Mandeville and was spotlighted in a 1986 article by Dr. Koenig which was published in The Second Line, the magazine for the New Orleans Jazz Club. 

Near the end of the article he made an impassioned plea about saving the Dew Drop and preserving its musical heritage. Here are edited "excerpts" from the article from a PDF file posted on the basinstreet.com website:



DEW DROP DANCE HALL

by Karl Koenig
(Edited version)

One imagines the sounds of an early jazz band, (maybe a band led by the legendary Buddy Petit , who often played in the structure) and the shouts and laughs of a large crowd enjoying the good times and good music, both inside the hall (where the best of southern Louisiana cooking was being served by members of the Dew Drop Social Club, the owners of the hall).



It is over 100 years since the Dew Drop Social Club was formed (May 5th, 1885). The Dew Drop Social Hall may be the oldest and last existing structure of its kind. It is in need of repairs but, what is most important — it is still intact — the same way, the same boards in place — the same way it existed when it was built in 1895.

 It is a prime example of a late 19th Century country dance hall — the kind of hall that nurtured early jazz. Inside there is a foot and a half high band stand fronted by a wooden bannister about one and a half feet high, opened in two places to admit two pairs of steps that lead up to the bandstand. 


The windows are large openings, each side of the hall containing four such windows 6 feet high and 4 feet wide, big enough when open to permit the breeze from the lake to cool the participants in the hall on a humid, summery night, and allow the music being played to float throughout the neighborhood so that there would be no doubt that there was indeed a dance going on at the Dew Drop Dance Hall.

The Dew Drop Social Club was organized on May 5th, 1885 by Olicia Eunio, the hall built at a later date and dedicated on January 1, 1895.


Celeste Lee was one of the founders of the club. In an interview on February 23, 1985, Celeste recalled: "Many things went on in that hall. It was used for anniversaries, entertainments and concerts. The most popular event were the balls and dances. The hall was the center of our social life. I remember the dances. They were my favorite. We used to sell gumbo and other things outside the hall to make money for the club. 

"I remember many of the musicians that played there such as Buddy Petit. My sister's husband played with him — Papa Celestin, Louis Armstrong, Sam Morgan, the Fritz Brothers Band and so many more."

Celeste continued: "The bands in those days played all kinds of music; waltzes and everything, but my favorites were the lively jazz numbers. I liked to dance to them. 


"We even gave 'penny parties' to help the society. There are only about four members left, so we disbanded the society five years ago. The social club just dwindled away and the young people weren't interested in those kinds of activities — we couldn't even get a quorum for the meetings."

Celeste's sister Lillian, was married to Buddy Manaday the banjo player in the Petit Band and a close friend of Buddy Petit. In an interview with Lillian in her living room she talked about her husband and the Dew Drop Dance Hall:

"The dances at the dance hall were 'fun times'. There was all kinds of fun anytime we went to the hall. There was an event that was called a Tamarama, a musical vaudeville revue like a local talent show. It was real popular. Four of us girls would make look-alike dresses and wear them to the hall. I remember one was pink with frills and laces. My parents made sure that us young girls left the hall by midnight, even though the dance would always last until almost day­light. 


"I remember the delicious gumbo and cakes we served at the dances. (Lillian mentions there were other more potent liquid refreshments that were discreetly available outside the hall, near the back before, during and after Prohibition).

Buddy Manaday

Buddy Manaday was born in Baton Rouge in 1884 and moved to Mandeville in 1905 and started a five piece band. He always liked to play banjo and preferred it over the guitar. Manaday liked two things — music and fishing. He earned his living doing both of them. If he wasn't playing music he would be found out in the lake fishing. Before Buddy Petit came to Mandeville, Manaday's Band had only violin, guitar and bass.   

The two men, separated by 10 years in age, (Buddy was born c. 1895 in White Castle, Louisiana) became good friends and formed a new band using both musicians from Mandeville and the New Orleans area. They got work at the two dance halls in Mandeville, at the entertainment places along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain at Jackson Park in Mandeville (on Coffee Street) and other nearby locations in small Louisiana towns.

Once they worked a steady job at a place called 'Frosts' near the town of Madisonville. They would hire a horse and buggy to get to these jobs in nearby towns. Manaday also played a six string banjo. The band played about three times a week.

Jazz from New Orleans to Mandeville

My research in jazz history shows that jazz bands from New Orleans spread their music throughout the south a number of years prior to jazz's acceptance in the north, namely Chicago. In fact, it was the Petit/Manaday Band that did a good deal of this traveling — from Mandeville, to Bogalusa, to as far as Moss Point, Mississippi, from Pensacola to Mont­gomery, Alabama. 


Along the shore line of the northern part of Lake Pontchartrain there were three boat landings and a number of hotels, all using live music. Many of the local musicians liked the style of country living in Mandeville and found enough work in the area. They did not want to, or have to, go into New Orleans for work. The Dew Drop had at least two dances a week.


There were many jazz musicians born or living around Mandeville. This list includes: Buddy Petit, George Lewis, Ernie Cagnolatti, Andy Anderson, Tom Ladnier, Dan Moody, Bunk Johnson, Frank Lewis, George Washington and Ed Hall. Local musicians included the Laments, Klebert Cagnolatti, and the Fritz family; Isidore, Louis, Joe Lucien and Papa Fritz.

Isidore Fritz

Many New Orleans musicians mention the name of Mandeville clarinetist Isidore Fritz. He was the leader of the Independence Band. The band's personnel included: Isidore Fritz - clarinet and sax, Louis Fritz - trombone, Joe Fritz - bass, Klebert Cagnolatti - drums, Tom Ladnier - trumpet, Claybear - sax, Bunk Johnson - cornet, Leon Laurent - violin, Buddy Petit - cornet, Lucien Fritz - drums, Edmon Hall - clarinet.

George Lewis was very flattering when he talked about Isidore Fritz: "The leading clarinetist in the Mandeville area was Isidore Fritz. I heard him play many times." In the later part of George Lewis' life he admitted that he was probably more influenced by Isidore Fritz than by any other clarinetist.

Fritz played in a band in Mandeville led by his father Joe Fritz, a bass player. Isidore's brother Louis, played trombone. The trumpeter was Tommy Ladnier. Bunk Johnson would occasionally, in his travels show up in the town of Mandeville to play with the band and sometimes give advice in music to them.

After gaining experience in the Black Eagle Band and Leonard Parker's Band, both of Mandeville, George Lewis would get a chance to sit in with the Fritz Band — this may have been one of the first times Lewis played with Bunk Johnson. Lewis also heard Tommy Ladnier with the Fritz Band. Fritz died in 1940.

Lewis further stated: The Fritz Band (the Independence Band) at one time traveled to Baton Rouge to play. When they returned to Mandeville, George Lewis remarked that it was then he really began noticing them. He states: "That's when I found out how much of a clarinet player Isidore Fritz was. Isidore was one of the best, I'd say I ever heard, but he never would come over to play in New Orleans."

Manuel Perez also tried to get Isidore Fritz to cross the lake and play in New Orleans, but it was said that Fritz was reluctant to give up the family brick­laying business in Mandeville.
Fritz used to give George technical advice about clarinet reeds and embouchure help.

Meeting The Steamboats

The Independence Band and the Leonard Parker Band would many times meet the excursion steamers from New Orleans as they arrived in Mandeville. The two bands would try to attract the people from the boats to their dance being held that night in one of the hotels or dance halls in Mandeville.


Andy Anderson was from Mandeville and one of the finest trumpet players in the area. He mentions about Buddy Petit playing in the Fritz band: "Buddy Petit would play in the Fritz band sometimes and would fill his playing schedule up by playing the neighborhood towns on the other nights. The Independence Band played at Voutrans on Mandeville Beach."



Picture of the Dew Drop in the Jan. 1985 issue of the St. Tammany Farmer.

A number of early jazz musicians that were bom or lived on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain knew or played with Isidore Fritz; these include Andy Anderson, Earl Foster and Ernie Cagnolatti.

Andy Anderson was born August 10, 1905, in Mandeville. Bunk Johnson used to come over every weekend to play music in the Mandeville area. Anderson's father, George, played with Bunk. His father's band consisted of a violin, guitar and string bass. Andy heard many of the New Orleans musicians on the lake boats such as the Camellia which came to Mandeville each Sunday. 

Hearing Bunk in Mandeville inspired Andy to play trumpet. He knew Tommy Ladnier. Bunk had a sister, Bertha Jack­son, living about 60 feet from the Anderson home in Mandeville. His father's trio played at Jackson Park on Coffee in Mandeville.

Andy, later in his career, played on the Camellia with a band that had Reuben Hughes - bass, and Reuben McClendon - banjo. When asked about Isidore Fritz, Anderson remembered his band and had this to state: "Isidore, from over the lake, was one of the greatest jazz clarinetist around. Fritz couldn't read anything, but he could play harmony to anything and play anything anyone else could. 

Earl Foster, born December 28, 1904 in Mandeville, came to New Orleans around 1922. He began his musical career playing drums in Mandeville.  Bunk Johnson also played parades with Fritz in Mandeville. The bands rode in the parades there; the vehicle was a truck version of a tallyho. 

Isidore Fritz played clarinet with Buddy Petit before Manny Gabriel. Fritz's Band, named the Independence Band was based in Mandeville. Leonard Parker, trumpet, had a band in Slidell, but he joined the Independence Band, so his band was really the same as the Independence Band. Isidore Fritz was the only clarinet player Foster knew in Mandeville. He was a fine clarinet player and also played sax. Tom Ladnier played trumpet with Fritz's Band."

Ernie Cagnolatti was born April 2, 1911, in Madisonville, a town a few miles northwest of Mandeville. He came from a musical family and his brother, Klebert, played with Bunk Johnson during World War I at the shipyards in Madisonville with the Fritz Band. Klebert's wife is said to have had a picture of the band: Joe Fritz - leader & bass, Earl Fritz -trombone, Isidore Fritz - clarinet, Leon Pyrone - guitar, Klebert Cagnolatti -drums and Bunk Johnson - trumpet.

Ernie continued talking about the Fritz Band: "The band would come back to Madisonville for each ship launching by Jahncke Company and would rehearse afterward and play jobs nearby. The bands across the lake, like the Fritz band, were dixieland bands, called string bands."

Ernie moved to New Orleans in 1919. He recalls that Prof. Touro and Charles Deverges would come from New Orleans to the various schools across the lake and would teach music, mostly to students without financial means.

Ernie also names Dan Moody as one who also had a band composed of men from various towns in the Mandeville area where Moody had a regular job at Duval's Pavillion where the steamer Susquehanna came in. Sheik Cola played with Moody around the countryside. He cannot recall any brass bands across the lake, and on holidays a band from New Orleans would be hired, but it was difficult to get one. 


Musicians from the bands on boats like the Susquehanna, Camelia, Hanover, Victor and the Mandeville, which made fairly regular trips across the lake, would come to Mandeville and Madisonville. The boats, which made one trip on Sundays, would arrive in Mandeville about 11 a.m., the boats would go to Madisonville that night and tie up, and leave Monday, sometimes Tuesday for New Orleans.

The Sons and Daughters Hall has long ago burned, but Buck's Tavern, on the highway, once a mecca for New Orleans jazz bands and the place that Leon Laurent says that he and Bunk Johnson built, is still there (now called Ruby's Tavern) but no longer hires jazz bands.

The only place in Mandeville remaining the same is the Dew Drop Dance Hall. It was sold by the social club to Emma Cade Badia. She once thought of turning the hall into apartments, but has since abandoned the idea.

There are now people working to see that the Dew Drop remains intact as a prime example of an early dance hall. Its existence would allow one to hear just what a band sounded like from the stage of an old dance hall. 

Dr. Koenig's Efforts to Preserve the Dew Drop

Wouldn't it be great to give a concert/dance in the hall today? We could relive those early days when the Buddy Petit Band played on that same stage. Wouldn't it be something to hear Chester Zardis play on that stage some 50 years later? I hope we can prevent bulldozers from getting this historic landmark the way they got Armstrong's house in 1964. 

I talked to Danny Barker about the dance hall. He would join me in a concert at the Dew Drop to help raise money to insure its preservation. How about you? Would you come and play — or listen — to a concert from the stage of the Dew Drop in Mandeville? It would be really fun to have a jam session in this old hall."

Due To Extraordinary Efforts, the Dew Drop Was Saved and Preserved 

From 1986, when the article was written, significant progress was made to preserve the jazz hall. For more recent details, check out the website located at 

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It said that the hall has been "owned by the City of Mandeville since 2000 and managed by the all volunteer, non-profit Friends of the Dew Drop. This hall is one of only a handful of buildings of its kind still in its original condition. The Friends of the Dew Drop are dedicated to preserving the structure and to keep alive the music that made this hall so popular."

The Dew Drop was added to the National Register of Historic Places in August of 2000. It is regarded as the oldest surviving rural jazz dance hall in the world. 


In its application to become listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this is what was said about the structure and its history:

"The Dew Drop Social and Benevolent Hall is of local significance as a major center of social life for African-Americans in the Mandeville area. It is also of significance within southern Louisiana as a rare surviving African-American benevolent association hall. Because all available evidence indicates that the building's heyday as a social center and benevolent association hall ended c.1940, that date is being used to end the period of significance.

"Piecing together the history of the Dew Drop is hampered by the lack of written documentation and the fact that none of its members survive. Nor do many people who can give first-hand accounts of its early twentieth century heyday as a dance hall. According to newspaper reports, the group officially disbanded in 1980, when there were only five quite elderly members remaining. 

"Fortunately, jazz historian Karl Koenig interviewed, in 1985, one the founders of the club, 94 year old Celeste Lee; her sister Lillian, age 99, the wife of a musician who played at the Dew Drop; and Ella May Payne, age 90. Transcripts from these interviews were reproduced in an article Koenig published. In preparing this nomination, the staff of the Division of Historic Preservation interviewed Regina Gordon, 97, who attended dances at the Dew Drop in its heyday.

"Thus far scholarly and public attention has focused on the Dew Drop's dance hall and general social history. And, in fact, the group's name is typically seen in print simply as the Dew Drop Social Club. However, the cornerstone gives the name as the Dew Drop Social and Benevolent Hall, indicating that the organization was a benevolent association of the type found throughout New Orleans and South Louisiana beginning in the late nineteenth century. The history of these mutual assistance groups is yet to be written, but surviving documents and interviews provide the broad outline.

"Essentially a group of people banded together to provide assistance in times of need, most notably to pay for a proper burial. Charters were drawn up, providing for a dues structure, officers, and various membership requirements. Dues, and money raised from dances and other functions, were used to pay for members' funerals. Surviving charters also indicate a rigorous regimen for sitting up with sick members and attending to their needs (i.e., each member was required to put in so many hours). 

Benevolent associations operated under a wide variety of names. Among the most interesting are the Do Right in Geismar, Beauty Bright in Gonzales, and True Friends in Donaldsonville. Some were men's groups, some were women only, and others were both. All available evidence (admittedly fragmentary) indicates that the Dew Drop was either all female or heavily female in membership.

Historically there were hundreds of these groups in southern Louisiana, whether in New Orleans, in small towns, or serving a rural hamlet. Their halls ranged from large two story buildings (like True Friends in Donaldsonville) to small ones like the Dew Drop. Apparently benevolent associations, or societies, began their decline in the 1930s and '40s as the need for burial insurance was met by African-American owned insurance firms. As the old generation died, so went the benevolent associations. Today, relatively little survives to represent this immensely important institution in African-American life. 

The number of surviving halls in New Orleans is unknown. Elsewhere in South Louisiana there are only four known African- American benevolent association halls remaining: the Dew Drop in Mandeville, True Friends in Donaldsonville, Willow Grove in Wallace, and Do Right. The long abandoned Do-Right, in a "move it or lose it" situation in its original Geismar location, was relocated within the last few years by the River Road African-American Museum.

Benevolent association history aside, the Dew Drop is best known as a popular social venue for African-Americans in the Mandeville area. As early member Celeste Lee recalled, "The hall was the center of our social life." She continued: "Many things went on in that hall. It was used for anniversaries, entertainments, and concerts. The most popular event were [sic] the balls and dances. ... I remember the dances. They were my favorite. . . . The bands in those days played all kinds of music; waltzes and everything, but my favorites were the lively jazz numbers. I liked to dance to them. We even gave 'penny parties' to help the society."

Lee's sister, 99 at the time of the interview, recalled other social events:

"The dances at the dance hall were fun times. There was all kinds of fun .... There was an event that was called a Tamarama, a musical vaudeville revue like a local talent show. It was real popular. Four of us girls would make look-alike dresses and wear them to the hall. I remember one was pink with frills and laces. My parents made sure that us young girls left the hall by midnight, even though the dance would always last until almost daylight. I remember the delicious gumbo and cakes we served at the dances."

Ella Paine, born in 1895, reiterated Celeste Lee's comments about the Dew Drop being "the social center for blacks in Mandeville." She continued: "The Negroes were very social minded and the Dew Drop was always having some kind of affair. In 1928 it was going strong and very active." In recollecting some of the bands that played in the area, she observed that black bands played a "different style" for white audiences. "Then when they played at the Dew Drop they played 'hot'— you could really dance to that music."

Regina Gordon, 97, who was interviewed for this nomination, revealed that the Dew Drop had a wider audience that just Mandeville. As a teenager and young adult (late teens/1920s), while living in nearby Covington, she and a group of friends delighted in renting a flivver to make the trip to Mandeville and dance the night away at the Dew Drop. When asked if there was a similar facility in Covington, she said yes. When asked, "Then why the Dew Drop?" she gleefully replied that it was the thrill of a trip in what was then not a common item - the automobile. In short, piling into a car with a gang of friends and going to the Dew Drop was a special outing.

Additional research remains to be done to fully document the jazz history of the Dew Drop, although pioneering work has been done by Karl Koenig, as mentioned above. The building hosted jazz luminaries such as Buddy Petit and his band, famous trombonist Bunk Johnson, and Kid Ory, among others. Some were locals and others crossed Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans to play various venues on the North Shore.

When the Dew Drop ceased being a dance hall is unknown. Its heyday apparently was the 1920s and '30s. As noted above, the organization formally disbanded in 1980, with only five members. As Celeste Lee, among the original members, recalled: "The social club just dwindled away and the young people weren't interested in those kinds of activities - we couldn't even get a quorum for meetings."

Emma Cade Badie, Celeste Lee's niece, bought the building in 1981. In 1993 Jacqueline Vidrine purchased it from Ms. Badie's succession. In recent years the Dew Drop's future was less than secure.

Various people were interested in buying the building, but seemingly always with relocation and new uses in mind. Happily, the City of Mandeville purchased the Dew Drop in early 2000 and is committed to leaving it in the old neighborhood and retaining its original character. Plans for its use have not crystallized.

Jazz was played at the Dew Drop for the first time in probably over 50 years when in April 2000 a four-hour recording session was held there under the sponsorship of the National Park Service, the New Orleans Jazz Commission, and the George Buck Foundation. As Richard Boyd wrote in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the spirits of former jazz greats who played the Dew Drop "were probably in abundance as the all-star band opened with 'Walking Through the Streets of the City.' " In attendance were about 100 European jazz musicians and enthusiasts, who danced and second-lined. The Dew Drop was once again rocking."

Included in the application for the National Register of Historic Places was this detailed description of the structure itself:

"The Dew Drop Social and Benevolent Hall is a small wooden building built in 1895 in an African-American neighborhood of Mandeville. Shaded by large live oaks, it survives virtually unaltered.



"A cornerstone bears testament to the founding of the "Dew Drop Social and Benevolent No. 2 of Mandeville" on May 5, 1885 by Olivia Eunio and the erection of the group's hall in 1895. The building was the meeting hall for the mutual assistance/social organization, as well as the venue for popular dances.

"Much of the Dew Drop's appeal is its simple, unaltered state. Raised a couple of feet above grade on brick piers, the rectangular gable fronted building is sheathed in clapboards on the front and board and batten on the sides and rear. At first it might appear to have never been painted, but close inspection shows the remains of a green stain. Outlining the eaves is a sawtooth vergeboard on the front and a scalloped vergeboard elsewhere. 



"Three large windows are located along each side elevation. The windows remain as they were originally - with no glass and protected by shutters. A large wooden double door pierces the front elevation at the center. An off-center single wooden door is found on the rear elevation.


"Amazingly, the interior of the Dew Drop is largely pristine. In fact, the building has never been electrified. There is one large single space with walls of rough vertical boards, an exposed beam ceiling and a wooden floor. At the rear is a simple wooden stage which presumably has been replaced over the years. 

"When the City of Mandeville acquired the building in early 2000, one corner had been partitioned off, which has since been removed. The benches along the side walls were about all gone. The present ones were built based upon what remained. The free-standing benches located in the middle of the room are not original, but are certainly in keeping with the overall simple character of the interior. The painted border with crosses encircling the interior undoubtedly dates from a more recent use of the building for religious purposes.

"Certain clues in the Dew Drop's construction - most notably, changes in the floorboards and piers — have led to speculation that the building originally had an open front porch which was filled in very early. If so, the board and batten and vergeboard were matched exactly - there is no break in either."

Here are some pictures taken in 2000 by Donna Fricker of the structure that were included in its Historic Places application:








A lecture and concert were given at the dedication of the Dew Drop Dance Hall on May 4, 2002.
(Picture from Dr. Karl Koenig's Jazz History Website)