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According to the National Geographic, a group's culture defines its way of life and its own view of itself and other groups. The elements of a culture include religion, music, food, clothing, language, architecture, art, literature, games, and sports. All of these elements combine to create the interesting culture of Louisiana. They add to and enhance the quality of life for the state's citizens. Often, these elements are the basis for one of the many festivals in the state.

Religion

The first religion in Louisiana was Roman Catholic because the French and then the Spanish controlled the colony. At the time, both were Catholic countries. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, members of various Protestant religions moved into the territory. Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians were later joined by other Protestant religions such as the Lutherans, who were often German immigrants. Members of the Jewish faith have come to Louisiana at various times. More recent immigrants have brought Buddhism and Islam into Louisiana.

Music

New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz. Jazz is a kind of music with strong rhythms and much syncopation, often improvised. Brass bands and piano players helped create this new sound. Jazz has spread across the planet, an ambassador for Louisiana culture. In New Orleans, jazz funerals for musicians feature marching groups called second lines. The music of contemporary jazz greats like the Marsalis family owes much to the music of earlier artists. Al Hirt's trumpet and Pete Fountain's clarinet entertain both tourists and locals with exciting jazz.

The blues is also a link to the past. This music style is based on black folk music, especially on the chants of the black workers on the plantations. Those rhythms were memories of their African culture and made the slaves' lives and the work more bearable. The instruments most associated with blues music are the guitar and the harmonica. Later, when horns were added and the tempo changed, the new style was known as rhythm and blues.

In the 1930s, a cultural anthropologist toured the United States collecting folk music. The blues music Alan Lomax recorded in Louisiana is now part of the Smithsonian's Folkways Collection. One of those he recorded was a Shreveport musician named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly. A statue of this artist now stands in downtown Shreveport.

A very young Cajun musician is sharing his culture with the world. Hunter Hayes recorded his first CD at the age of five. Playing his accordion and singing in French, Hayes has entertained national television audiences. He plays with a Cajun band, which features fiddles, the triangle, and the accordion. The Cajuns, who are descended from the Acadians, learned to play the accordion from the Germans who moved into southwest Louisiana in the 1880s.

The early Cajuns often held dance parties at their rural homes. Entire families came, and the young children were put on blanket pallets in the bedroom. They were told to go to sleep, which in French is fais-do-do. This became the name of these dance parties, and today the term fais-do-do refers to a Cajun dance.

Zydeco is the special type of music of French-speaking African Americans of South Louisiana. It is much like Cajun music; the song is sung in French and played on an accordion. An added instrument, the rub-board is used for rhythm.

Country music is part of the heritage of North Louisiana. In the days before television, when people gathered for entertainment, musicians brought their instruments. Their string bands usually usually included a guitar, a fiddle, and a mandolin. This traditional southern country music developed into bluegrass music and then into modern country music. This heritage continues with a state fiddling championship held each year at Marthaville in Natchitoches Parish.

Country music and blues were adapted to become rock and roll. Rock and roll started in New Orleans as early as the 1940s. Antoine "Fats" Domino and Little Richard recorded 1950s rock-and-roll hits. A young musician named Elvis Presley performed his new music in the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport before he gained national fame. Jerry Lee Lewis left Ferriday in Concordia Parish to become a piano-pounding rock-and-roll star. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones listened to Louisiana musicians as they developed their own style. The Neville Brothers and many other musicians continue Louisiana's contribution to rock and roll.

Many early rock-and-roll musicians started out singing gospel music. Gospel is church music that blends elements of folk music, spirituals, hymns, and popular music. You can hear gospel music in churches throughout Louisiana every Sunday morning. Songs sung in African-American churches preserve the old spirituals and add contemporary music. Rural churches in North Louisiana feature gospel quartets.

More formal classical music also contributes to the musical sound of Louisiana. Orchestras have created musical culture since colonial days. Young musicians today continue this tradition as they audition for the Louisiana Youth Orchestra in Baton Rouge.

Community brass bands were popular at the turn of the century. Today high school bands perform concerts and provide the marching bands for local parades. Music continues to add a tempo to life everywhere in Louisiana.

Food

Newcomers and visitors to Louisiana usually comment on the music and the food. Louisiana food is considered one of the best elements of the culture, although some find the spices a little bit too hot. The food of Louisiana has spread across the world in recent years, with Cajun restaurants in places like Williamsburg, Virginia.

The food most identified with the state is actually the Cajun and Creole food of South Louisiana. Until recently, residents of North Louisiana ate more like their neighbors in East Texas and Mississippi. For many years, crawfish were not considered food anywhere outside of Cajun country. People north of Alexandria were more likely to eat fried chicken or barbecue. Fish fries featuring catfish took the place of crawfish boils. Today, boiled crawfish is served throughout the state.

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