1116 Henriette Delille Street
Telephone: 504-657-6700 or 504-606-4809
Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m.
Saturdays from 10 a.m. till 3 p.m.
Sylvester Francis paraded with the Gentlemen of Leisure Social Aid & Pleasure Club. One fine day a man photographed Sylvester in his finery and demanded 35 dollars if Sylvester were to have the photo. Sylvester responded by going out and buying a camera for himself, and a Super 8 movie camera to boot. When he took a photo of somebody (with their permission) he’d keep a copy for himself and give them a copy for free.
In 1988 he turned his garage in the backstreets of Tremé into a makeshift museum, displaying his collection of photographs and Mardi Gras Indian memorabilia. Social aid and pleasure club members, including Chief Victor Harris of the Mandingo Warriors and Spirit of Fi Yi Yi, donated costumes and parade umbrellas.
Sylvester’s former boss and current friend Joan Brown Rhodes of the Rhodes Funeral Home (Sylvester drove and washed the funeral limos) saw the unique value and potential of the collection — and explanations about it — and began sending tour groups there to view and learn about New Orleans culture. When a Rhodes-owned funeral parlor on St. Claude Avenue closed in 1999 Ms. Rhodes suggested that the collection be moved into the building. The “offical” Backstreet Cultural Museum was born!
Donations of material for exhibition poured in, mostly from people to whom Sylvester had given free photographs. Today, although modest in size, the museum houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of material related to New Orleans’ African American masked and processional traditions, including Mardi Gras Indians, jazz funerals, social aid and pleasure clubs, Baby Dolls, and Skull and Bone gangs. The museum’s film archives at present consists of recordings of over 500 of these events.
Beyond its exhibits, the museum hosts public performances of music and dance, and it maintains an annual yearly book chronicling the year’s jazz funerals. The book’s name? “Keeping Jazz Funerals Alive”!
With all this, the museum consists of a couple of rooms and a hallway, the exhibitions in these areas arranged by an amateur enthusiast, and the explanations by a member of the family who will be there. For some these are priceless. For others less so. Your vision, your spirit, your ten bucks… Your call.