The musician’s son knew how he was supposed to feel. Cheldon White has been to more second-line parades than he can remember. Hundreds, probably. So as the brass band started playing and the parade lurched forward in New Orleans last Sunday, White, who was standing amid the crowd, expected to find his feet dancing.
But for some reason, he wasn’t feeling it. He tried to do a little step — nothing. Then the Mother’s Day parade turned off a four-lane thoroughfare and onto a one-way residential street in the 7th Ward, one of the city’s most troubled neighborhoods. The crowd of roughly 200 people filled space, like water rushing into a hole. And with nowhere to dance, even if he could find his groove, White threaded his way to the front.
Up ahead, according to police, Akein Scott, a teenager with a criminal past, was waiting with a gun in hand, preparing to open fire, perhaps to settle a beef. Within moments, 19 people, including two children, would be injured in a storm of bullets. And White, a 21-year-old photographer, was walking right into it — for one reason: “I wanted to dance,” he says. “I needed some space, so I could dance.”
Music is part of the cultural fabric in New Orleans, an ethereal idea that draws tourists from around the world. But for Cheldon White, it’s a matter of simple genetics. White’s parents met at a second line more than two decades ago. He was raised in the Treme, the son of a seamstress and a trombone player. And that trombonist isn’t just anyone; it’s Stafford Agee, one of the stars of the Grammy award-winning Rebirth Brass Band: musical royalty in New Orleans.