Musicians Bringing Musicians Home

From the earliest moments of Katrina and the levee failure in New Orleans until today, musicians have been a huge part of the response. They raised a large part of the initial funds via concerts and telethons, they made stark comments about the lack of response by our President, and they literally dug fellow musicians out of the mud to rebuild their lives and livelihood.

In 2006, RPM started to work with local and national partners to bring musicians to New Orleans to keep attention and focus on the rebuilding, and also to provide an important backdrop to our ongoing conversation about how to be better artist-activists and philanthropists. Since then, thanks to the support of several foundations, we’ve been able to bring over 100 artists there to learn and work and sing and play.

These artists have gone on to create dozens of original songs, generate over $1M in donations, and raise critical awareness for groups working on environment and social justice issues. In fact, in 2010 when we thought it would be a good idea to mark the 5th anniversary with a benefit compilation with some of the participants, called Dear New Orleans, we thought we would get 10-12 songs. Thirty-three songs were submitted!! A triple album!!

Over the past 10 years of work in New Orleans, one of our proudest moments was when we were able to buy Al Johnson—a musician from the lower 9th ward who wrote the theme song for Mardi Gras called “Carnival Time”—a new house in the Musicians’ Village. As Al puts it, “The time of Katrina was devastating. I haven’t got over that yet. I think about it…I lost everything. I’m a survivor with all the help from [RPM] and other people. I’ve done well. And I’m thankful.”

“By engaging artists from around the country in efforts to support the tradition bearers of New Orleans, RPM forged a link between the music community affected by the flood of 2005 and a global network of musicians and fans… it represents the ongoing commitment of artists from all corners to give back to those who have inspired them.” —Jordan Hirsch, former Executive Director of Sweet Home New Orleans