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Archive for February 19th, 2024

Genevive Chamblee: House of the Rising Sun
Monday, February 19th, 2024

Today’s post may seem an odd one, but for me, it isn’t. See, recently, Mardi Gras was celebrated, which is a major event in Louisiana. And since 2020—when the entire world broke—it hasn’t been the same. Sure, it’s on its way to recovery, but it’s taking a while to get there. I should say, though, that this isn’t something that many people who have been around and are familiar with carnival are overly concerned with because, as mentioned, Mardi Gras is a big deal. It has tons of moving parts. Restructuring events this large is complicated. For those who think I’m minimizing the disruption, reflect on what happened in the years following Hurricane Katrina. It wasn’t that much different than what is presently occurring.

I began by saying Mardi Gras is a popular celebration in Louisiana. This is true. However, it is an event celebrated across the globe. New Orleans is likely the place where it is the most famously celebrated or is given the most attention. But NOLA wasn’t where Mardi Gras was created or even first celebrated. It’s just that when NOLA does something it does it big. Like, there is nothing really “over-the-top” about the place. Nevertheless, this post isn’t about Mardi Gras. Carnival was just the reason this topic registered with me.

This year, several parades were canceled—not due to weather but due to continued money issues that a lot can be attributed to the start of the icky Rona situation. In 2020, Fat Tuesday was on February 25, barely beating the U.S. shutdown/shelter-at-home. In 2021, it’s fair to say, that the Mardi Gras public celebration in NOLA was all but canceled. In 2022, it returned, but many parades/krewes didn’t return due to financial issues and parade route conflicts. This has continued to be the case as people get back on their feet.

So, as some friends and I were discussing the “good ol’ days” of carnival, we began to realize that there are plenty of things that we’ve taken for granted about Mardi Gras. Taking something for granted means failing to appreciate the value of something due to overfamiliarity. It also means failing to make assumptions without asking questions. Well, while we were having this profound discussion (and yes, distilled spirits were involved), the song House of the Rising Sun (or as I’ll refer to it from henceforth, HOTRS) began playing. And for the first time, I took note of the lyrics—perhaps because the first line begins: “There is a house in New Orleans.” As many times as I’ve heard this song, I never once questioned anything about it. I looked at my companions and asked where this place was located. No one knew, and that sent me spiraling down a wormhole of intoxication and loose association. Not only was I curious about the where, but I also wanted to know the what and why. So, I did some digging, and the results were intriguing…at least, to me.

Before I began dumpster diving into the where, what, and why, I was smacked with who. This became significant later when trying to answer what.


Like Mardi Gras being closely associated with NOLA despite it not originating from there, HOTRS is mostly associated with being performed by the British rock band, The Animals. Their version was released in 1964. However, HOTRS is a folk song that is believed to have been written in the early twentieth century and has been performed/recorded by a host of other artists. This list includes (in alphabetical but not recording order) the following: The Animals, Clarence “Tom” Ashley, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Five Finger Death Punch, Gwen Foster, Frigid Pink, Geordie, Andy Griffith, Woody Guthrie, Johnny Halliday, Lead Belly, Los Speakers, Miriam Makeba, Johnny Miller, Sinead O’Connor, Odette, Dolly Parton, Pete Seeger, Nina Simone, Thin Lizzy, Dave Von Ronk (Mayor of McDougall Street), and Glen Yarborough. This list may not be exhaustive.

Reportedly, The Animal’s version of the song was based on Bob Dylan’s version, and Dylan based his version on Dave Van Ronk’s version. However, Ronk wasn’t the original artist. The original artist is alleged to have been a woman, and the original lyrics reportedly are “poor girl” and not “poor boy.” It is believed the lyrics were changed when the gender of the singer switched from male to female. This is significant because the switch in gender perception changes the interpretation of the song. I’ll swing back around to this later.


Most of the information that I’ve read says that the HOTRS is based on a real location in NOLA. To be fair, I did find a couple of sources that said it was fictitious and a few others that concluded it was real but located in other places than NOLA. As to what type of establishment it was, three common answers kept recurring: Read the rest of this entry »