Mexican Music in 19th-Century New Orleans

October 23rd, 2011 by Michael Taylor

In 1884, Payen’s Eighth Cavalry Mexican Band performed to great acclaim at the New Orleans World’s Fair (better known as the World Cotton Centennial Exposition), setting off a popular craze for Mexican and Cuban music in the city. Over the next decade, music publishers there, led by Junius Hart, published hundreds of pieces of sheet music by Latin American composers, mostly for voice and piano. One of these songs, the waltz “Sobre Las Olas” (“Over the Waves”) by Juventino Rosas, went on to become one of the most popular melodies of its day. It is still heard at fairgrounds and circuses, and has also found its way into New Orleans jazz, Tejano music, and even old time country fiddling.

Forty-eight pieces of sheet music performed at the Exposition or written by Mexican composers who worked in Louisiana in the late 19th century have been digitized by the LSU Libraries’ Special Collections and added to the Louisiana Digital Library. The music may be freely accessed and downloaded in PDF format. To view the collection, click here or visit the Louisiana Digital Library’s website.

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