Group promotes New Orleans anthem

August 8, 2008 5:50:09 PM PDT
Kevin Molony was listening to a version of the old spiritual "I Shall Not Be Moved," when it struck him as the perfect anthem for New Orleans residents still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina. The song, which served as a battle cry for the union movement in the 1930s and the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, seemed particularly relevant for those clinging fiercely to lives wrecked by the deadly storm almost three years ago.

"That line, 'Like a tree planted by the water, I shall not be moved,"' Molony said on Friday. "It seemed to sum up what everyone struggling to come back after Katrina was feeling. I really wanted to bring the city together with that thought."

Molony founded a nonprofit agency aimed at audio and video production of the slightly altered song. He describes it as a New Orleans version of "We Are the World" - a song recorded in 1985 by an elite group of artists whose goal was to raise funds to help famine-relief efforts in Ethiopia.

In what he calls the "folk tradition of adapting and transforming songs to serve as anthems to galvanize people in a cause," Molony made a few modifications. He adopted a version, sung by the unions and civil rights marchers, that changed the song's pronoun to "We." Then he lined up 12 New Orleans musicians, including Charmaine Neville and John Boutte, along with groups ranging from gospel choruses to the New Orleans Opera Choir and recorded a CD of the song.

"It's very emotional for everybody," said singer Topsy Chapman, who sang on the CD with daughters Yolanda Windsay and Jolinda Phillips. "Everything has changed since Katrina. Even our neighborhoods aren't familiar anymore."

Both of Chapman's daughters' houses were submerged by Katrina's flooding. Chapman said the first floor of her own home flooded. She lost all the gowns and shoes she used in performances, as well as other possessions.

Chapman, who was in "One Mo' Time" on Broadway, just moved back into her renovated house two months ago.

Julie Condy directs the Crescent City Lights Youth Theater Chorus, which also took part. Since the storm, music has been a saving experience for the kids in her group, she said.

The chorus is a multicultural, multi-race group of children, 8 to 14 years old, from all social and economic groups, Condy said.

One thing almost all of them share, she said, is leftover pain from the hurricane that flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and scattered its people across the nation.

"You're talking about kids who lost everything - their homes, their schools and friends," Condy said. "For some of these kids this music is all they really feel they have and they are very excited about this project."

Molony's CD is scheduled to go on sale Aug. 29, three years after Katrina slammed into New Orleans.

The group is also working on a video that will be posted on the Internet via YouTube. Molony hopes thousands of New Orleans residents will converge on Woldenberg Park on Saturday for the final filming.

He said he also hopes the movement will inspire one more thing: "We're hoping that at noon on the 29th, everyone will sing, say or shout 'We Shall Not Be Moved."'