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Finding Minnesota: Jazz Band Kicks Funerals Into High Gear

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(credit: CBS) Angela Davis
Angela Davis joined the station in 2006. Angela co-anchors the Sund...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – On Memorial Day, many will visit the gravesite of a relative or friend. And for some that visit will remind them of the day of the funeral.

This week in Finding Minnesota, we show you how some families are opting to make the burial of a loved one, more spirited.

The Twin Cities-based group Band of Praise have discovered an old New Orleans jazz funeral tradition and brought it up north.

Professional trombone player Don Lehnhoff is one of the founders of Band of Praise. He started the group in 2007.

“They would play slow, very sad music to accompany the casket to the grave. Then once the rights are done, and the preacher says, ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,’ it’s time to focus on those remaining, still alive and going forward. That’s when the music becomes more upbeat, they dance back and have a party,” Lehnhoff said.

Tom Huelsman, another founder of the band who also plays the trombone, spent 34 years as band director of South Washington County Schools before retiring.

“We’ve been called for various things. We did a Russian funeral where we had to change our format from Dixie music to Russian music, that was an interesting phenomenon for us to join in on,” Huelsman said.

At least six or seven people make up the band at each performance and they all wear black suits. They play traditional hymns like “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” and “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

The reaction of funeral guests is often one of surprise.

“The people who employ us know what they are getting and I am sure there are some family members who arrive and are like, ‘What is this?’ But the people we talk with are well-acquainted,” Lehnhoff said.

It costs about $1,000 to hire the Band of Praise to play at a cemetery or at an indoor memorial service.

The jazzy Minnesota funeral band will be performing at Mound Cemetery of Brooklyn Center as it celebrates its 150th anniversary. That service is at 11 a.m. WCCO This Morning anchor Mike Binkley will serve as emcee.

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