Hurricane Ida was none too kind to Mandeville, Louisiana—Katrina and Zeta didn’t pull their punches either. Through it all, the Dew Drop survives, a wooden shack elegantly framed in Spanish moss. It’s too storied to succumb to a 100-year storm: this building was the headquarters of a historic Black benevolent society and remains the oldest virtually unaltered jazz hall on earth.
Built in 1895, the structure was once home of the Dew Drop Benevolent Society, an association offering social services to Black community members barred from healthcare, loans, childcare, and other services. The Benevolent Society held fundraisers, collected donations, and once in a while, put on legendary live performances.
Because Mandeville was about 10° degrees cooler than New Orleans at the time, moneyed urbanites of the late 19th and early 20th centuries often ferried north to weekend in cooler climes. Black musicians of the day would ride along too, playing on the ferry for tips before playing in the formal dance halls of the north shore. At the time, Blacks weren’t allowed to stay at hotels in Mandeville proper, but the Dew Drop sat three blocks outside city limits, offering prominent jazz musicians a third act and a place to crash. The venue saw performances from Buddie Petit, Buddy Mandalay, and Louis Armstrong, to name a few, while continuing to offer much-needed attention to the surrounding community.
With advances in civil rights, the benevolent society became obsolete by the end of World War II before shows dried up in the 1960s. By the 1980s, the building was abandoned, but in 2000, the city of Mandeville obtained rights to the building and teamed up with the National Park Service to hold the first Dew Drop jazz show in decades. In 2002 a non-profit called Friends of the Dew Drop formed to organize performances and maintain the building, ensuring that this historic venue doesn’t go quiet.
Know Before You Go
The Dew Drop puts on two shows a month, which you can see through their Facebook page.