Preservation Hall

Sandra Smolen grew up in Wynnefield, PA, and earned a degree in public relations and journalism from Harcum College.  She worked in advertising.  She married Allan Jaffe and set off on a trip to find their place in life.  They found it in New Orleans.

Both were fans of traditional jazz.  They were blown away by the charm of New Orleans. They decided to extend their stay and met a number of local jazz artists, many of who were elderly.  They were offered space in an abandoned building, and they decided to invite musicians they had met to perform.  The space was small (31 ft by 20 ft).  It was built by a free woman of color 200 years ago.  There had been few changes in the building, and the Jaffe’s decided to keep it as it was.  The building was called Preservation Hall.

At the time, New Orleans banned mixed raced groups from performing together.  But the Jaffe’s ignored this city ordinance.  Colored restrooms were eliminated.  Performers varied in age from 60-90.  Many of the performers were struggling with poverty, racism, and various illnesses.  The Jaffee’s refused to advertise, preferring that the audience be built by word of mouth.  Their plan worked and Preservation Hall has become a must-see for those visiting New Orleans.  Visitors sit on benches and children are allowed to sit on the floor directly in front of the musicians.  Some of the musicians now go on tour.  A foundation has also been created to preserve traditional jazz.

Hidden heroes have a vision that is both one of preservation and innovation.  Who else might have imagined the success of creating a must-see attraction out of a small, run-down building featuring musicians at least 60 years old?  Often the visions of hidden heroes may seem obvious in retrospect.  But vision alone won’t work if there is no passion for success.

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“How will we know it’s us without our past?” John Steinbeck (Author)

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