S3E09: Celebrating Life as a Community with a Jazz Funeral

This week we visit New Orleans for a jazz funeral. Learn how the community joins the remembrance with gratitude and life-affirming defiance as they celebrate! Charlie reports about the power of humor at the end of life and has a jazzed-up banana pudding recipe for us.  We also welcome Kathy Wieland for our segment “Everyone Dies Wakes the Dead”.  We are sharing with you, our loyal listeners, original music that could be played at a funeral.  The music is to die for!

What is a Jazz Funeral?

Jazz is the lifeblood of New Orleans, and when someone dies, what better way to celebrate the end of life than a jazz parade!

Jazz funeral processions have been part of New Orleans traditions since the late 19th century. Nowadays most jazz funerals are for public figures high-profile individuals and others who opt to include this type of procession.

As mourners exit the wake, they are greeted by a brass band playing a slow solemn song, typically associated with mourning (called dirges) or an old spiritual such as ‘Nearer My God to Thee’.

The group of people following the brass band is called the “second line.” The second line are not solemn marchers, they are marching, or moving the music, often creating their own show that complements the spectacle of the marching brass band.

In its simplest form, the second line is a parade, a mass of celebrants and mourners that weave their way through the streets. Anyone can join the second line, passersby – whether they knew the deceased or not – are welcome to join in the procession.

Why choose a Jazz Funeral?

Lady Delany has written. “The fact that grief can make such joyful noise is a profoundly beautiful thing. The sort of heartbreak that smiles into the sun through its tears, claps its hands and shakes its booty- to celebrate what is good in what we have lost- is an act of reverent gratitude, and life-affirming defiance in the wake of loss.”

The beautiful thing about a New Orleans funeral is that it removes the isolation of grief. It also changes the spirit from a somber funeral to one of celebration of life. And the music! Did we mention the music?

You actually don’t have to be in New Orleans to carry on the tradition. Learn more about the history and customs of jazz funerals in the podcast, then check with your local municipality for street closures, etc. Go the way you want to!


New Orleans: “Jazz Funeral”

Popular Songs for New Orleans Jazz Funerals

  • A Closer Walk with Thee
  • Battle Hymn of the Republic
  • Down By the Riverside
  • Lead Me Savoir
  • In the Sweet By and By
  • Walk Through the Streets of the City
  • What a Friend We Have in Jesus
  • When the Saints Go Marching In

Related Content:

Humor and Quality of Life

Did you know that laughter and humor can fulfill one of the main goals of hospice and palliative care, which is the improvement of a patient’s overall quality of life? Humor clan plan an important role in diffusing difficult situations but it has also been found to help alleviate pain.

According to the Journal of Aging Research, humor releases endorphins in the brain, which help to control pain. It can also reduce loneliness among older persons suffering from chronic pain. On its website, the National Cancer Institute urges patients to build humor into their day-to-day lives, in ways as small as buying a funny desk calendar and watching comic films and TV shows. Humor, especially during extremely stressful moments, has the benefit of acting like a “release valve,” relieving tension — if even momentarily — so everyone can re-set and re-evaluate.  If you get any guff from people that you need to take your dying seriously and not make light of it, remember it’s your party and you’ll die as you want to!


  • Claxton-Oldfield, S., & Bhatt, A. (2017). Is There a Place for Humor in Hospice Palliative Care? Volunteers Say “Yes”! American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine®34(5), 417–422. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049909116632214
  • Tse, M. M., Lo, A. P., Cheng, T. L., Chan, E. K., Chan, A. H., & Chung, H. S. (2010). Humor therapy: relieving chronic pain and enhancing happiness for older adults. Journal of aging research, 2010, 343574. https://doi.org/10.4061/2010/343574
  • Wiley-Blackwell. (2008, April 9). Humor Plays an Important Role in Healthcare Even When Patients Are Terminally Ill. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080408112104.htm

Songs to Wake the Dead

Singer/songwriter Kathy Wieland

This week we welcome Kathy Wieland is a singer/songwriter from Ann Arbor, MI. She plays guitar, banjo, and autoharp. Her songs are often humorous, and some have been winners in festival contests.

We asked Kathy to tell us why she wrote the song that could be played at a funeral but was likely inappropriate to do so.  She said she thought it would be fun to write a song about her favorite cocktail and give it a Michigan location.  Alpena, MI. was perfect! 

Alpena Colada By Kathy Wieland

In a bar in Alpena on a cold winter’s night, I was sitting there nursing a brew.
I was lonely and sad, cause I felt I’d been had by a man who lives up by the Soo.   
The bartender winked as she gave me a drink, said, “Here’s something I think you should try”
I took a big sip and with foam on my lip, I raised up my glass and I cried,

Alpena Colada, you’re a drink that I’m fonda.  You’re a trip to the islands
On a cold winter’s day up in Mich.
Coconut and pineapple.  You’re much better than Snapple.
You can leave out the rum so you won’t be a bum, and they can’t say you drink like a fish.

Well, I had a few more and my spirits they soared and the jukebox was playing a song.
Something smoky and slow with a rhythm that flowed to my hips that vibrated like gongs.
I got up on a table.  Didn’t think I was able but the music just gave me a push.
Someone said, “Ooh La La. Is that the hula or ska”?  I just shimmied and wiggled my tush.

Alpena Colada…

Well, the rest is a mystery.  I’m told I made history.  The cops came to take me away.
Threw me into the slammer my head beat like a hammer when I woke to go home the next day.
Made a stop at the market.  It wasn’t quite dark yet.  Got some mixers and fruit from the bin.
Though I’m just off a bender, I threw ice in the blender.  Gonna visit the islands again.

Alpena Colada…

The second song for the category that could be played at a funeral, and it’s even appropriate, Mike chose “A Little Farther Down the Road” which offers insights into aging, more miles behind than ahead, and any regrets along the way.

OLD RIVER By Kathy Wieland

Old River wash me clean.
Float me gently down the stream.
When I get to the ocean
Roll me out to the sea.

Old river wild and deep
Moving even as I sleep.
Time passes like a dream 
As I travel your stream.
Ever changing the scene
Til I’m one with the sea

I am on a rolling river.
Always moving to the sea.
Drop of rain upon the water,
Going where it carries me.

I am pulled along the current.
Facing what’s around the bend.
Might be heaven if I’ve earned it
When I reach my journeys end.

You’re eternal, I am fleeting.
I won’t pass this way again. 
Still while this old heart is beating
Guide me safely home my friend.

Recipe of the Week

This week’s recipe hails from a New Orleans family perfect for a jazz funeral spread – a beloved banana pudding with an adult twist. Check it out here.

Calling All Songwriters!!!

As a songwriter, ‘Everyone Dies’ is inviting you to showcase your original work on an upcoming podcast.

There are many wonderful songs that could be played at a funeral. We also know there are songs that could be played, but are cringeworthy (e.g. Ding Dong the Witch is Dead; Another One Bites the Dust; Ring of Fire, etc.).

We are inviting you to send us a recording of two of your original songs (i.e. that could be played at a funeral, one that is appropriate, one that is likely not) to be included in the third half of the ‘Everyone Dies’ podcast. We will include as many artists over the next year (maybe longer if we are enjoying the segment) as possible.

What we need:
Go to this link, fill out the form and submit it along with your two original songs in .wav or .mp3 format (i.e. two original songs that could be played at a funeral, one that is appropriate, one that is likely not). We will screen them and let you know what week your work will be included. We will include all your information in our show notes so people can purchase your recordings.

Cowboy playing his guitar by a coffin, and a dog howling. Coffin is vibrating... Learn about songs to wake the dead. Learn about funeral music at Every1dies.org

From Everyone Dies:

Everyone Dies: and yes, it is normal!

Everyone Dies (and yes, it is normal) is a story about a young boy named Jax who finds something special on the beach where he and his grandpa Pops are enjoying a wonderful day. Pops helps Jax understand that death is a normal part of life. This book provides an age appropriate, non-scary, comfortable way to introduce the important topic of mortality to a preschool child. Its simple explanation will last a lifetime. Autographed copies for sale at: www.everyonediesthebook.com. Also available at Amazon

Mourning Jewelry
mourning jewelry earings

We offer a way to memorialize your loved one or treasured pet with a piece of handmade jewelry.  When people comment on it and the wearer can say for example “I received this when my mother died” which opens the conversation about this loss. All our jewelry is made with semi-precious stones and beads, vintage beads, and pearls. You can choose between earrings or bracelets and the color family. Learn More

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