October 29, 2022 | Last updated Oct 16, 2023

Dan Desdunes and the Birth of Omaha Jazz

A 1924 event in Wilber, Nebraska, featured “Dan Desdune’s Band and Minstrel Show of Omaha. Colored Entertainers Supreme.” RG813-445 (at left).

Dan Desdunes lived a remarkable life as a bandleader, educator, and civil rights activist. In his native New Orleans, he played a key role in an unsuccessful legal challenge to railway segregation that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Plessy v. Ferguson decision. In Omaha, he became a successful bandleader who also volunteered at Father Flanagan’s Boys Home, where he trained the boys for fundraising musical tours. His story is told in “Dan Desdunes: New Orleans Civil Rights Activist and ‘The Father of Negro Musicians of Omaha’” by Jesse J. Otto. The article appears in the Fall 2011 issue of Nebraska History.

Through the mid-twentieth century, Omaha was known as a hub of traveling jazz bands—black bands. Otto writes,

Before the end of the dance band era, around 1960, many black musicians came to Omaha in order to develop their talents and try to work their way into big name bands. Omaha jazz musician Preston Love asserted, “If New York, Chicago, and Kansas City were the major leagues of jazz, Omaha was the triple-A. If you wanted to make the big leagues, you came and played in Omaha.” Omaha’s black bandleaders had long upheld a tradition of nurturing and producing prominent musicians, many of whom had been attracted to Omaha from other parts of the country. Dan Desdunes was largely responsible for beginning this tradition.

The Fall 2011 issue of Nebraska History announces a new membership category: Subscription Only. For just $29 per year, you’ll receive four issues of each of Nebraska History and Nebraska History News. (Memberships with full benefits are still $40.) Click here to learn more.

—David L. Bristow, Associate Director / Publications

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

Marker Monday: Phelps County

Marker Monday: Phelps County

Why John G. Neihardt was named Nebraska Poet Laureate in 1921

Why John G. Neihardt was named Nebraska Poet Laureate in 1921

Emigrants along the Trails at Chimney Rock

Emigrants along the Trails at Chimney Rock

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.