A single photograph, grainy and yellowed with time. That’s all the tangible evidence that remains of Buddy Bolden, one of the first documented players of early New Orleans jazz. Although his memory has long been kept alive in oral tradition, many of the specifics of Bolden’s now-mythic life and career remain obscured in shadow.
The Eagle Saloon, located on the famed 400 block of Rampart Street in the historic black Storyville district of New Orleans, was one of many community hotspots where Bolden, Bunk Johnson and their contemporaries performed the music that would come to be known to the world as jazz, influencing a young Louis Armstrong and countless others. Built in 1851, the Eagle Saloon — a building on the National Register of Historic Places — is one of the few remaining buildings of its kind to survive. A new plan seeks to preserve and refurbish this priceless building, bringing history into the present and reconnecting it to the living traditions of New Orleans.
Over the years, the Eagle Saloon has passed through many hands. Most recently, after a decade of ownership by the now-deceased Jerome “PoppaGee” Johnson and the New Orleans Hall of Fame, LLC nonprofit, the newly formed Eagle Saloon Initiative, governed by new board members for the New Orleans Music Hall of Fame, seeks to once again to undertake a massive renovation effort.
This time around, things look more promising: a charitable foundation matched the first $250,000 raised. A newly launched Indiegogo fundraising campaign has been capitalizing on the ever-growing grassroots power of social media, allowing the group to reach their initial fundraising goals. And a star-studded list of Cultural Ambassadors to the Eagle Saloon Initiative has been assembled, including New Orleans native PJ Morton of Maroon 5, George Porter Jr. of The Meters, Buddy Bolden’s great-grandson Big Sam, Ian and Ivan Neville and “Deacon” John Moore.