Being a National Park Service Ranger is a multifaceted job, one that requires you to call on all your skills to bring a park to life.

Whether it be through music, research, education, conservation, or day to day administrative work, Rangers give their all to the places they have sworn to protect, which is why every year the International Ranger Foundation sets aside July 31st as World Ranger Day. If you’ve listened to past episodes, you know our “Rangers Make the Difference” series began in part to celebrate World Ranger Day and to highlight National Park Service rangers who have gone above and beyond. Today’s episode, while unique in its focus, is no different. 

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the role the art of music has played in helping our rangers bring the parks to life.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

We start at the birthplace of Jazz – New Orleans, and the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park where almost every day you can take in a live performance from a jazz artist, many of whom are Rangers.

Located in the heart of New Orleans French Quarter, the park’s primary visitor center is located at 916 N. Peters Street and is a good starting point to learn about the history and culture of New Orleans jazz. The New Orleans Jazz Museum, located nearby, features a world-class performance venue and jazz museum on the second and third floors. 

The vocals you just heard were by Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes, a musician and composer, naturalist, a black-and-white portrait photographer, a television and film actor and a former professional football player with the Kansas City Chiefs…and his musical talents aren’t limited to Jazz and piano. In fact he’s one of the worlds best Zydeco musicians. Oh, and he’s a full-time National Park Service ranger. 

Barnes travels to perform at parks throughout the south. Here he is at the Jean Lafitte Barataria Preserve, discussing the importance of the islands, swamps and marshes south of New Orleans to Black Americans, and performing an improptu song with Underground Railroad Freedom Singers Erica Falls, Elaine Foster, and Joshua Walker on the visitor center trail.

Music plays an important role at so many of our historic sites. From the Star Spangled Banner at Fort McHenry, to the Folk Festival at Lowell National Historic Park. But music was also important before Europeans arrived. At the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site in North Dakota, Mandan/Hidatsa flute player and storyteller Keith Bear uses music and story to bring to life the culture of the Upper Missouri.

Music can tell us so much about our history, but rangers use music for other reasons, too. Ranger Tori Anderson, who now works at North Cascades National Park, was formerly a Wildlife Education Ranger at Yellowstone. Her interpretive programs feature music to help people think about their connection to the land. Here she is in Yellowstone’s Indian Creek campground, performing at the end of a program about grizzlies:

That recording is from Benjamin Evans.