NOLA Life Stories

NOLA Life Stories features first person perspectives of the individuals who have helped shape our community.

Created by The Historic New Orleans Collection with the collaboration of WWNO, the show features excerpts from oral history interviews conducted as part of THNOC’s New Orleans Life Story Project, an ongoing effort to record and archive the voices and experiences of the people that have made New Orleans what it is today.

Thomas Walsh, Producer

Mark Cave, Executive Producer

After being hired in the spring of 1975, Angela Hill was quickly promoted to co-anchor of the news at local television station WWL.
WWL-TV

For over 38 years, Angela Hill served as anchor for the most popular news channel in New Orleans, WWL-TV. She got her start, however, in smaller market stations in Texas in the early 1970's. At that time, having the news delivered by a solitary male anchor was still the industry model, but that was about to change.

George Wein, seated, worked with different music experts to guarantee that the Jazz Fest lineup was stylistically diverse.
Newport Festivals Foundation, Inc.

Jazz Fest creator George Wein was a pianist and professor of jazz studies at Boston University when he organized the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954. He scored another hit with the Newport Folk Festival and became a sought after concert promoter.

When officials from New Orleans wanted him to produce a festival in the Crescent City, George knew he wanted to do it, but encountered some obstacles along the way.

Tom Benson, pictured with wife Gayle and granddaughter Rita Benson LeBlanc, grew up in the St. Roch neighborhood and graduated from Brother Martin High School and Loyola University.
Chuck Cook

When Tom Benson purchased the New Orleans Saints in 1985, the team had never had a winning season. Over the course of 30 years, Tom has helped reshape the team to become one of the NFL's most popular teams and a source of community pride throughout the Gulf South. 

While Tom's ongoing dispute over the legacy of his sports empire continues to unfold, NOLA Life Stories wanted to examine the man behind the headlines. Tom grew up in the St. Roch neighborhood and  is no stranger to hardship: the man climbed into the billionaire’s club from humble beginnings.

The 1969-70 New Orleans Buccaneers pose for a team photograph during the team's last season in town. The team was subsequently in Memphis for five seasons moved to Memphis before the ABA folded in 1976.
American Basketball Association

Local basketball fans have rooted for the Pelicans, the Hornets and the Jazz, but did you ever root for the Buccaneers? 

The Buccaneers were one of the original 11 teams in the American Basketball Association and New Orleans' first professional basketball team. People took notice of the ABA because of the flashy chances they took: they invented the Slam Dunk contest, had celebrity owners, and made open invitations for anyone to play on their teams.

JoAnn Clevenger grew up in a strong Baptist community in northern Louisiana and eventually found her way to New Orleans.
Historic New Orleans Collection

JoAnn Clevenger had never even heard of Mardi Gras until she moved to New Orleans in the late 1950’s. She dropped out of Tulane to care for her mother and then moved to the French Quarter shortly thereafter. At that point in her life the jazz clubs, restaurants and literary circles she hung around weren’t like anything she’d seen.

After graduating from Xavier University, Tureaud left New Orleans in 1960 and traveled the world before settling in White Plains, New York, where he worked as a director of special education for more than 30 years.
Historic New Orleans Collection

AP Tureaud Jr. was raised in the 7th Ward, which he called “the stronghold of the Creole community.” A Creole himself and the son of prominent civil rights lawyer AP Tureaud Sr., he remembers the neighborhood upheld education and leadership. But as often as this unified message was preached, Tureaud says not everyone in the community was given equal footing.

Although they don't own the facility, Rene Brunet Jr.'s family has signed a 50-year agreement with the Prytania Theater that allows them to operate it exclusively.
Historic New Orleans Collection

When Rene Brunet Jr. was a kid, his father owned the Imperial Theater, a single-screen movie house in Mid-City. At the time, movie theaters were neighborhood institutions and played to the vaudeville expectations of the audience. But from the time he was a child, Rene saw the film industry undergo one transformation after another, which put his family’s business under constant pressure to change or get out of the way.

John Mecom Jr. was actively involved in the sports industry. Apart from the Saints he owned Mecom Racing Team, which managed several Formula One racing teams and drivers.
Historic New Orleans Collection

When New Orleans was awarded its NFL franchise in 1966, the first person to own the team was John Mecom Jr. – a 26-year-old Houstonian whose father made a fortune in the oil industry. An avid sports fan, John helped shape the team’s identity: he picked out their colors and logos, and even helped move them to the Superdome.

But he was often criticized for his involvement with the team. Throughout his 18 seasons of ownership, John had an adversarial relationship with the league, press and fans.

As a young child without reference, the crowds of protesters awaiting Leona Tate at McDonogh 19 in the Lower 9th Ward sounded like a boisterous Mardi Gras parade.
Historic New Orleans Collection

When the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that separate black and white schools were unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education, it seemed desegregation was close at hand. But it took six years before the New Orleans school system was integrated. In the fall of 1960, Leona Tate — then only 6 years old — was one of four young black girls escorted through a crowd of protestors.

Among the many innovations that K&B Drugstores brought to the New Orleans area were self-service drugstores, which didn't exist when Sydney Besthoff, left, began working at his family's company.
Historic New Orleans Collection & Infrogmation

When he started working at the family business in the late 1940’s, Sydney Besthoff III had no intention of becoming K&B Drugstore’s lead man. Over the course of the next 20 years, Sydney worked in every aspect of the business and became general manager. He expanded the company along the Gulf Coast throughout the 70’s and 80’s then sold the beloved chain in 1997. There was a local outcry — after all, K&B had been in New Orleans since 1905.

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