Bille Pierce’s Jazz Funeral

Bille Pierce’s Jazz Funeral


ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes



The Olympia Brass Band played / slow beautiful, / a bright skinned man 

stiff-armed a derby hat, / gimp-legged, but moving fine for Billie dead. 



Books by Lee Meitzen Grue

Goodbye Silver, Silver Cloud  /  In the Sweet Balance of the Flesh   / French Quarter Poems  / Three Poets in New Orleans  / Downtown

CD Live! On Frenchmen Street

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Billie Pierce’s Jazz Funeral

By Lee Meitzen Grue

“You can keep up to date

and learn all the new numbers

if you want to, but what the people    

like best is just a gang of good old blues.”

Billie Pierce 


Billie Pierce used to sing to me 

when it was hot, when I couldn’t get sleep. 

She sang  Algiers Hoodoo Blues 

and Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out. 

A gold cornet curved around those long hard blues. 

Yesterday, I second-lined her to the St. Louis cemetery 

with a bunch of school children 

holding hands for Billie dead. 

The Olympia Brass Band played 

slow beautiful, 

a bright skinned man 

stiff-armed a derby hat, 

gimp-legged, but moving fine for Billie dead. 

There were people taking pictures, 

as if you could, 

too many cars underfoot, 

and in a long car, Billie dead. 

It was a long way there and sad, 

the music crying and us crying, 

children needing a bathroom bad 

so we went while the music was down. 

I never got to hear them 

bringing it back happy for Billie dead 

so I’m still grieving.

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Source:  French Quarter Poems, Long Measure Press, 1979

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By Lee Meitzen Grue

Lee Grue is arguably one of the finest practitioners of poetry in New Orleans’ storied history. These superb writs are equal to the upwelling of jazz itself: from Tremé street corners, to the wayward French Quarter, to the carefree vibes of Bywater, all the way to back o’ town; this astonishing collection speaks from a mythic pantheon off yowls & beats as timeless as the Crescent City herself. “If you’re missing New Orleans, and you know what that means, you need to read Grue’s book front to back, place by place, time by time, name by name, everything that breaks your broken heart and asks it to sing. A generous, loving tribute to poetry and to New Orleans”—Dara Wier

 “Lee Grue’s work is one of the majestic pylons that keeps New Orleans above water, a pylon woven thickly and subtly from the city’s history. Her poetry weaves her personal history to the five centuries of the city’s own, a fabric stronger than the dreams of engineers. Lee Grue holds us all on the warm open hand of her music; she emanates the love that raises the soul levees”—Andrei Codrescu

Lee Meitzen Grue was born in Plaquemine, Louisiana, a small town upriver. New Orleans has been home for most of her life. She began reading her poetry at The Quorum Club during the early sixties. There she met musicians Eluard Burt and Maurice Martinez (bandleader Marty Most). Burt had just come back to New Orleans from San Francisco, where he had been influenced by the Beats. Eluard Burt and Lee Grue continued to work together over many years. Burt and his photographer wife, Kichea Burt, came home to New Orleans from California again in the nineties, where the three collaborated on a CD, Live! on Frenchmen Street. Eluard Burt passed in 2007.

Kichea Burt contributed some of the photographs in Grue’s book DOWNTOWN. During the intervening years Grue reared children, directed The New Orleans Poetry Forum workshop, and NEA poetry readings in the Backyard Poetry Theater. In 1982 she began editing New Laurel Review, an independent international literary journal which is still published today. She has lived downtown in the Bywater for thirty-five years. After the flood of 2005 she began teaching fiction and poetry at the Alvar Library, which is three blocks from her house. Her other books are: Trains and Other Intrusions, French Quarter Poems,  In the Sweet Balance of the Flesh, and Goodbye Silver, Silver Cloud, short fiction.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 8 July 2008



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