Why Does New Orleans Have Second Line Parades?

A woman dancing traditional dance near Hotel St. Pierre

Did Second-Line Parades Start In New Orleans?

Second line parades are a prized New Orleans tradition originating in early African-American communities. They started as neighborhood celebrations and ways to advertise various types of social aid to freed slaves and other residents.


They were also a way to honor members of the community who passed on, leading to their role in New Orleans-style jazz funerals. Today, you’ll find second lines at weddings mostly, but they also occur at special celebrations, festivals, and during other important milestones.


The term second line comes from the fact that the celebration includes two parts, or two lines. The first line features the main honorees, such as a bride and groom. Then, the revelers follow behind, dancing and celebrating in what becomes the second line. 

When Do You Do A Second Line at A Wedding?

Couples tying the knot in NOLA often include a second line as part of their celebration. It’s a way to signify a new beginning for the bride and groom and their life together. Most often, the second line involves the guests following the bride and groom and the wedding party from the church to the reception venue.


Other couples opt to have the second line toward the end of their reception, as part of their grand exit. The guests follow the happy couple, waving handkerchiefs or napkins and dancing to the music. Some newlyweds choose to have a specific person lead the parade, perhaps a trumpet player or outgoing personality. If budget allows, many times the couple hires a brass band.


If you plan to second line through the New Orleans streets as part of your wedding day, make sure to contact local authorities. You need to acquire certain permits and follow specific guidelines and may need to have police present.

Are There Second Lines at Funerals?

Second line parades aren’t just for weddings. They’re also a popular tradition for funerals in the Big Easy, playing a major role in the city’s famous jazz funeral tradition. This stems from their early roots as a way to honor community members that had died.


The second line at a funeral typically takes place when the hearse moves the body from the funeral to the burial service at the cemetery. A brass band plays and the guests follow behind, forming a second line. If you plan to hold a second line as a part of a funeral, you also need to get the proper permits.


Are you planning to experience a second line firsthand when you come to New Orleans for a wedding or other special event? We’re ready to welcome you with southern hospitality and smiles in our comfortable accommodations. It’s time to experience one of the most interesting and unique cities in the world; there’s really no place quite like NOLA.