The West Baton Rouge Museum celebrated the grand opening of its newest permanent exhibit, the Juke Joint on Friday, April 6 with more than 200 attendees.
The exhibit is an ode to the rich history of juke joints in the parish and the influence of African culture on them, Museum Director Angelique Bergeron said. The grand opening featured performances by Blues Hall of Famer Henry Gray, 93 and blues soul singer Carol Fran, 84. Keeping with the feel of a true juke joint, Cane Land Distillery created the “Baby Scratch My Back” spiced rum drink especially for the occasion. For beer drinkers, a Juke Joint IPA by Tin Roof was available. To soak it all up, Rice N Gravy Food Truck offered fried catfish and sides.
The WBR Museum is used to covering heavy subjects with exhibits like “Slavery to Civil Rights” but when the idea for a blues exhibit came up it was a “no-brainer” Bergeron said.
“We said we’ve got something with this blues thing, let’s do it,” she said.
For decades those looking for music, drinking, and scandal after a long week of working in the fields found all that and more in the juke joints of West Baton Rouge.
People from across the river flocked to the refurbished but often still run-down buildings when clubs in Baton Rouge closed at midnight due to Blue Laws.
“This was the place to be,” Bergeron said of Port Allen.
Juke joints could be rough places, and not just because of their appearance. Fights were common, and sometimes the reason people were attracted to them. A barroom fight in the White Eagle, a former juke joint in Port Allen, was the inspiration for Ernest Gaines’ famous novel “Of Love and Dust.”
In classic juke joint style, the museum’s exhibit is a Boy Scout hut left abandoned for years before it was donated by the local American Legion to the museum. Recreated posters, cigar box guitars, a jukebox, piano and basic wooden benches adorn the inside.
The exhibit will be a part of the museum’s everyday tours and a feature of this year’s summer camp. The museum already has plans to expand the juke joint with the creation of a covered outdoor stage, Bergeron said.
While the juke joint won’t jive every Friday night, residents can expect more performances and events soon. The museum is asking for residents who frequented juke joints to share their stories to enhance the exhibit. If you have a story to share, contact the West Baton Rouge Museum at 225-336-2422.