The Second Line is a cultural phenomenon unique to New Orleans. Its roots are in the African-American jazz funeral tradition as celebrated in New Orleans. This tradition evolved long ago from the mingling of cultures in Louisiana, including original African funeral traditions that survived in the New World, mixed with colonial Spanish and French military band services from hundreds of years ago.
When a musician or a prominent person in the community passes away, the church service for the departed is followed by a somber procession to the grave site, as the band plays a slow “dirge.” When the body is interred, they “cut the body loose,” and the band strikes up a joyful number, and leads the family and friends from the grave to another place for the celebration, such as the departed one’s favorite bar. The object is to celebrate the life well lived, not to mourn for his departure.
The “first line” is the hearse, the band, and the family. Folks always come out of their house when a parade passes by, even if they did not know the deceased, they may “fall in” dancing behind everyone else. Hence, these dancers are known as “the second line.”
Today the second line is ubiquitous to any celebration in New Orleans. There are also many Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs in New Orleans that sponsor second lines for their special events.
Now many, many more second lines are performed for weddings and other entertainment events than for jazz funerals. Second lines for weddings and parties are outrageously fun!