Three years ago, when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, thousands of homes and lives were destroyed—and so was much of the city’s musical heritage. Many blues, jazz, and rock musicians made their homes in the city’s Lower 9th Ward and other areas that were heavily flooded when the levies broke. In addition to losing their houses, these men and women lost most of their musical instruments and the artistic community that had evolved there over decades. It seemed as though, just like that, New Orleans had fallen silent.
Luckily, two years ago, well-known local musicians Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis made a pledge to bring New Orleans’ music scene back to life by helping to construct houses for the evacuated musicians. They worked with the New Orleans branch of Habitat for Humanity International to build a neighborhood of 72 new homes in the Upper 9th Ward, which would be known as the Musicians’ Village. Along with the single-family homes, the Village also hosts a 150-seat performance space, the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, where musicians can both perform shows and mentor students.
As with its other projects across the globe, Habitat for Humanity uses a large network of volunteer builders and donated construction materials to build the homes, and then sells the homes to the families at low, affordable prices, offering them zero-interest loans.
Residents began moving into the Village almost two years ago, but the project is still going strong, with new musicians setting up shop even now.
For musician Michael Harris, who recently bought a home in the Musicians’ Village, the community provides a sense of hope that he thought he had lost for good.
“To be a homeowner when a couple years ago I was homeless, and everything out here is new, and it’s bright and it’s hopeful and it’s vibrant, and it just feels good to know that the culture matters,” he told WWLTV News.
How you can help: The construction of Musicians’ Village is nearly complete, but if you’d like to contribute to the rebuilding of New Orleans, you can still make a donation to New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity (NOAHH), which is working to construct affordable homes for low-income families in the city.
By Kathryn Hawkins of Razoo, the site for charitable giving