Interview: 2014 Humanities Lifetime Achievement Awardee Peggy Scott Laborde

psl 2014

A native of New Orleans, Peggy Scott Laborde has dedicated her life to documenting the history, culture and traditions of her hometown. As a reporter, filmmaker and producer, she is an invaluable contributor to the cultural life in the city through her research and generosity. The LEH honors her this year with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2014 Humanities Awards, March 29th at the Audubon Tea Room in New Orleans (click here for tickets). We spoke to Peggy about her first interview, the Tennessee WIlliams/New Orleans Literary Festival and, of course, Mardi Gras. 

LEH: You’ve worn so many hats as a journalist. Can you recall the first person you interviewed?

Peggy Scott Laborde: Yes, none other than Academy Award winner Joan Fontaine! In the 1970’s, while I was still in college at the University of New Orleans, I was writing freelance features for a weekly newspaper. She was visiting New Orleans to promote a film. I interviewed her in her posh suite at the Pontchartrain Hotel. The setting was perfectly “Old Hollywood” and she was classy and gracious.

LEH: Growing up, were you interested in local history? Was it part of your family life?

Laborde: My mom and dad, along with my favorite uncle, were all interested in New Orleans history and shared that passion. My mom particularly liked traditional jazz and that certainly rubbed off on me. When I was a child, we spent five years living in the Carrollton section of the city, between two cemeteries. I saw jazz funerals and was very intrigued by the tradition and the music. I am a proud graduate of Cabrini High School and had a column for the school newspaper. My topic was what to do and see in New Orleans, with a focus on local historic places, such as the Pharmacy Museum.

LEH: You played such a central role in the development Tennessee Wiliams/New Orleans Literary Festival, and you continue to be an important advocate, board member and participant. What can you tell us about those early years of the festival?

Laborde: As with the staging of almost any brand new event, it was very hands-on and very exciting. We had virtually no budget and really had to rely on the kindness of strangers and friends. The organization still takes great pride in making the dollars we raise stretch to the max. And, may I add, that the LEH has been a supporter from almost the beginning of the Festival.

LEH: You’ve produced, narrated or consulted for more than forty-five documentaries. Surely each one had a special quality, but is there a film you’re most proud of?

Laborde: That’s one of the hardest questions to answer because they are about different topics. I’m particularly interested in the culinary and music history of New Orleans. The quartet of food related documentaries would be among my favorites. That said, two documentaries that focus on our rich music heritage are also dear to my heart. Mystery of the Purple Rose: The Saga of New Orleans Creole Jazz Pioneers and Red Beans and Ricely Yours: Satchmo in New Orleans allowed me to dig deep into our music history and even come up with some new research. In Purple Rose we were able to shine a spotlight on the incredible Armand J. Piron, a bandleader, violinist, composer and teacher, who should be much better known. In Red Beans and Ricely Yours I had the pleasure of working with the late music historian Tad Jones, who devoted his life to writing a book about Armstrong’s New Orleans years and had even uncovered baptismal records revealing the jazz giant’s true date of birth. By the way, both documentaries wouldn’t have been possible without grants from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.

LEH: Can you give us an idea of what Mardi Gras Day is like for the Labordes?

Laborde: We usually spend the morning in the Quarter and in Marigny neighborhood and enjoy seeing maskers and running into friends. We costume and have always encouraged others to do so. We look for the Ducks of Dixieland, Mondo Kayo walking groups and members of the Society of St. Ann, along with spinoffs from that group. By the afternoon, it’s time to prepare for WYES’ live broadcast of the Rex Ball and the Meeting of the Courts of Rex and Comus that we anchor along with Dr. Stephen Hales. We go on the air at 7:30pm and sign-off around 11:15pm. In addition to coverage of the ball we include lots of Carnival history. It’s the most highly watched local program on WYES, which is so rewarding.

Click here to visit Peggy’s site and learn more about her books and films. 

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