The Festival began in 1970 when the New Orleans Hotel Motel Association formed the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation to celebrate the rich musical heritage of the city, considered the birthplace of jazz. The foundation uses the proceeds from the festival to fund community development programs that focus on education and culture.
George Wein, who had created the Newport Jazz Festival, was put in charge of producing the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. When it began, it reportedly attracted only 350 audience members, and was small enough to be held in Louis Armstrong Park, in the section known as Congo Square. The site was chosen because it was where African were aloud to gather to play their music and dance during the days of slavery. After two years, however, the festival had outgrown the square, and moved to the New Orleans Fair Grounds and Racetrack, where it remains.
While it began as a showcase for nothing but local acts, the festival now attracts international artists. In its nearly four decades, musicians including Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Duke Ellington, Tito Puente, The Temptations, Ella Fitzgerald, Erykah Badu, Dizzy Gillespie, and many others have graced its stages.