New Orleans, LA – Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis came up with an idea days after Hurricane Katrina to build homes and a community center for the city's displaced musicians. They partnered with Habitat for Humanity, and six years later - the center is now open.
Their opening number?
"Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans .."
Connick and Marsalis hosted the ceremony, recalling how the idea began days after the storm, as they drove to Houston to perform for evacuees. They contacted Habitat for Humanity, which agreed to build homes while the community center came together separately with expert architects and designers. They are both complimentary about the building's acoustics, saying high-quality recordings can be made there, while other rooms offer classes in dance, Mardi Gras Indian culture and computer technology.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu opened the ceremony, saying the more than 70 homes in the development along with the music center serve as national examples of recovery.
"It should not be lost on anyone that we're standing on sacred ground in the Ninth Ward. This particular piece of property in the United States of America, will become a symbol for America's greatness again. Because if you can rebuild the Ninth Ward - lower or upper, east, west, north or south - we can find a way to rebuild all of America."
Then it was back to music, with the Eleanor McMain High School choir performing.
Dedications were made to special contributors, including a classroom to New York jazz musician Moe Dallolio. His foundation supports music education.
The musicians lounge is dedicated to the Dave Matthews Band, who matched $1.5 million dollars donated by their fans to the project. The Marsalis family also perfomed together.
But the center's namesake took to the Steinway for a solo performance, and a few words of thanks.
"music --- then fades."
"I do view what you see here as a beginning of some things that we hope that we can definitely move in a great direction. So when you begin to hear about the center it will be not about me but about some young people or some people who are pursuing their art."
The official poster for the center and a portrait was unveiled by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
"It says, Musician, educator, mentor and father. We honor his virtuosity on the piano, his unrelenting commitment to excellence and his dedication to young musicians around the world."
The ceremony concluded with Musicians Village residents leading the audience back outside.
For WWNO, I'm Eileen Fleming