Get in Line

It’s a Parade in Our City

Article by Margaret Ledbetter

Photography by Sarah Bell, Sélavie Photography

Originally published in River City Lifestyle

The Memphis Second Line Jazz Band is bringing a New Orleans-style sound to Memphis streets. A “second line” is a roving band of musicians on parade with dancing that follows behind them. With roots in West African traditions, second line bands began forming in New Orleans in the mid to late 19th century. The bands were made popular at what are now called Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs. At the core of the parade is the “main line.” This group is the band, the krewe or the club with which the band is affiliated. For funerals or weddings, the main line includes the funeral and wedding parties, respectively. The “second line” refers to the guests who join or dance behind the main line.

The second line tradition eventually worked its way up the Mississippi River. Memphis native Ellis Keplinger founded the Memphis Second Line Jazz Band in 2016, drawing inspiration from the bright and brassy sounds of a second line. Keplinger picked up the bass drum at Christian Brothers High School and joined the school band. He was invited to join his first second line parade almost immediately after graduation. His unique talent and entertaining spirit grabbed the attention of others. He went on to join the drum line at the University of Memphis, and gigs began to follow. 

“People just like music that makes them happy,” he says. Keplinger recruited friends on various horns and a snare drum to add some Memphis soul to the second line sound. Drawing on all the talent in town and “the fine teaching of Stax Music Academy,” he says, the band grew and now plays multiple events weekly, including a standing appearance at Restaurant Iris on Fridays at lunch. Classics like “When The Saints Go Marching In” make the perfect soundtrack for the raw bar Chef Kelly English features in the Laurelwood Shopping Center.

Bringing a celebratory sound to any gathering, the band plays parties and grand openings, most recently at the new Rumble Boxing Gym in the Citizen Building in Midtown Memphis.

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