Jazz stars come to the aid of fellow musicians

March 1, 2008 3:03:03 PM PST
More than 1 million Americans have volunteered in the wake of hurricane Katrina, giving vital help to millions of residents along the Gulf Coast. Many of those volunteers have worked for Habitat for Humanity and their efforts to rebuild homes swept away by winds and flood waters. One of the worst hit areas was the ninth ward of New Orleans. Today, nearly two years later, block after block of empty lots remain where vibrant communities once stood. Two of New Orleans' most famous sons came to the rescue.

Aleis Tusa/ Director of Communications, New Orleans area Habitat for Humanity: "Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis have been friends of Habitat for many years. Harry sponsored homes with us prior to the storm. They came about and said, 'Hey, our musicians are going to have problems coming back to the city, and we need to see what we can do to help them.' They are not normally able to apply for a real mortgage, regular mortgages because of not having a W2 form at the end of the year. So, we saw the need for musicians. We saw the need for homes, and we had a sponsor to kind of kick us, kick-start it. So basically all those entities came together to start building this development. And with Harry and Branford's leadership, we took on the musician's village at the expense of everything to really reach out to musicians and talk about their plight of coming back to the city."

Aleis Tusa: "We're going to have seventy-two single family homes, five duplexes, Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, a toddler friendly little pocket park, and a conglomeration of musicians that are living here and kind of feeding off each other and spreading the music of New Orleans. And that's what we're really excited about because we're starting to see it come together with the forty-three homes that are complete. It's just a wonderful thing out here that we're happy to have come to fruition.

Aleis Tusa: " We get from volunteers from everywhere. Most of them come for a week-long stay which right now is Tuesday through Saturday, 7:30 to 2:30 with time in the evenings to get cleaned up and enjoy the city. A lot of people will come to sit here, meet musicians and then go hear their gigs that night. But we get volunteers from everywhere. They come skilled and unskilled, and they'll get out here and put on siding, put on roofs. They will build walls, and it's this invigorating experience that they have of I didn't know I could do that. "

While our Channel 6 cameras were at the habitat project, a group of volunteers celebrating their 30th high school class reunion were on the job.

Bill Reynolds/ Habitat Volunteer: "Well, I'm part of the St. Paul's school crew, class of '77, and our fearless leader Sally Ward decided it'd be a good idea to give something back. This was a great way to do it. "

Bill Reynolds: "Well, I'm an attorney and needless to say, I didn't do a whole lot on construction work, but we've been working with chop saws and putting up soffits and siding. It's definitely a learning experience for us, and it's a lot of fun."

Libby Buck-King/ Grew Up In Villanova: "It's a lot of fun. We're doing good, I hope, for New Orleans, as well as we can. And we're with all our friends. It's our thirtieth reunion and it's a great time. It's a lot of music, people, good feelings. Great weather. Great weather."

Louisa Wood Ruby/Grew Up In Haverford: "I'm an art historian. I work at the Frick Collection in New York. And I'm learning all about pressure-treated wood, siding, and caulking. And I'm gonna go home and work on my house now. Any kind of group to come down here, work together, it's a real bonding experience. It's a lot of fun. After work, there's all of New Orleans out there. They're ready; really happy we're here, and let's see spending money. And it's great, it's not scary or anything like you might have thought. It's a great time. And they're thankful, I think they're thankful that we're here. And it's a good thing."

And after a hard day on the construction site, what's next?

Bill Reynolds: "Well, we've been heading down to the French Quarter and listen to music. It's been great. And, having, just enjoying New Orleans. It's such a beautiful town, it really is. It's incredible."

Aleis Tusa: "Without our music, it's like we've lost electrical power, and so we're glad to see the music coming back and a lot of musicians. I think what happens to, you know these musicians that are being helped here, have been reaching out and helping more musicians. There are so many organizations in the city that are also helping musicians. Just altogether, it kind of gives that base to start because tourism is so intricate to the economy here, and we really want to help keep that going."

Click for information on how you can help rebuild New Orleans with Habitat for Humanity. Go to www.habitat-nola.org.


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