In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as the world watched New Orleans, two music icons stepped up to the plate. Old friends Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr., along with their long-time manager, came up with a way to give back to the music community that helped make them famous.
Connick recalls, "I knew that I had to do something. I wasn't sure what it was."
"I remember Harry and I driving down Interstate 10 on our way to Houston in 2005 to play for the evacuees stuck in the Astrodome and we talked about not this, but we talked about a school and building some homes," says Marsalis. "We had no idea that this would be the end result."
That end result is Musicians' Village, a planned community that features housing, a children's park and the brand new Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, named after Branford's father. "The storm and the aftermath of the storm left us an opportunity to try to work with Habitat for Humanity and kind-of say thank you to the musicians here who've made us what we've become professionally."
Connick agrees, "Everything about me musically and just even as a person has just been formed by my experiences here in New Orleans." As the final piece of Musician's Village opens, the Center for Music is another example of how Hurricane Katrina, despite all the devastation, was in some ways a blessing in disguise.
Connick considers the storm a call to action. "As much as we pride ourselves in our traditions, we need to be among the cities that stay modern and stay advanced. I think Katrina was a great wake-up call. There was a lot of good that came out of something so horrific."
It's a new beginning for a struggling neighborhood and the opportunity to create a new generation of great musicians. For Marsalis and Connick however, work doesn't stop at the Village. They're taking their message on the road.
"My job sort of as an advocate for our city is to go around the world and say- you need to come visit, you need to come see that New Orleans is the greatest city in the world and that we we've come back from Katrina," says Connick. As the anniversary of the storm approaches, there's still work to be done, but take one look at the Center for Music and you'll see there's plenty of progress to celebrate.