There are certain cities in America with an obvious connection to music. Great music can, and has, come from anywhere all over the world, yet there are some cities with a special musical story. Nashville is the home of country music. Detroit is Motown. For years, Chicago was the blues while jazz belongs to New Orleans (and apparently Utah, but that is another story for another time).
A lot has been written and said in the days leading up to the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. As a result of the hurricane, more than 1,800 people died and more than $100 billion dollars worth of damage was done to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region of Mississippi and Alabama. Thousands were left homeless and unemployed. Those are just the numbers, though.
The aftermath has been an ugly chapter in America's recent history. The destruction, despair, and desperation took a heavy toll most certainly on the region itself but also on the nation as a whole. Even after days of being saturated by the images of the ruin and the chaos that followed, Americans struggled to absorb the enormity of it all. When the suffering and tragedy of Katrina needed a face, needed a name, it was the rescue of an elderly Fats Domino who became that face. It was music that became that name.
It seemed odd in the face of so much devastation that music would become such a focus, yet following the hurricane, America did what it always did — it held benefit concerts (remember Kanye West?). Millions of dollars were raised in the name of hurricane victim relief and much was raised specifically in the name of New Orleans' musicians. U2 guitarist The Edge helped start an organization called Music Rising aimed at putting instruments back in their hands while The Jazz Foundation of America has also been working hard to help these musicians rebuild their lives and their careers. The Jazz Foundation estimates they have assisted in more than 1,100 New Orleans emergency cases.
With thousands more New Orleans residents suddenly scattered, people have openly questioned whether or not the unique culture of the city will ever be the same. The traditions, customs, and way of life have been endangered. Was Hurricane Katrina the day the music died in New Orleans? I am surprised Don McLean has not sought some sort of court injunction to stop anyone from writing a song to that effect. Organizations like the Jazz Foundation are going to extraordinary lengths to make sure future generations will still find their thrill on Blueberry Hill.
Raising money to buy musical instruments might seem shallow when there are still so many hurricane victims in need, and on some levels it is. Records are not edible and tubas do not make good shelters, but life is more than just survival. Rebuilding New Orleans is about more than clearing away the remnants of what was and replacing the rubble with new buildings. Rebuilding New Orleans is about allowing all of the unique and special traits of the region to be reborn. Returning the music to New Orleans is part of returning the soul to the city.