Video: Musicians village in New Orleans?

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 1/23/2006 7:39:49 PM ET 2006-01-24T00:39:49

We're here following some musicians who had an idea: Why not come up with the money and build a neighborhood? Why wait for FEMA or the feds, why not get some generous people and some lumber and start building? It's a planned community the size of five city blocks — a musicians village where right now there's nothing.

They may go down as the men who brought back the Upper Ninth Ward: New Orleans native Harry Connick Jr., his friend Branford Marsalis, his dad, the patriarch, Ellis Marsalis. And they even got the chairman of NBC Universal, Bob Wright, to make a major personal contribution — enough to build an entire house.

"There's a lot of history going on, and I think we need something concrete, like this musicians village, to really ensure that the history continues to flow from one generation to another," says Connick.

They have the village all mapped out. A vacant park will be the hub, surrounded by new houses and a new performance center.

"I think musicians have been the lifeline to this city because it's a tourist town and we don't have a lot of business infrastructure here," says Branford Marsalis. "And without the musicians it would be very difficult to sustain that. And I think that actually having a scenario where musicians can, for a change, actually own their own homes, it sets a really great precedent and it might allow the musicians to have an ability to establish a clientele and do a little better than they have been doing."

Ellis Marsalis, who taught the music of New Orleans to so many young musicians, says this needs to happen.

"Sometimes, as a gentleman once said, violence is very often the midwife of change," he says. "Katrina was very violent, because what you are seeing now are things that some of us talked about for years in a kind of abstract manner — a place where musicians could hang out, if you will, where musicians can go and learn."

Jim Pate of Habitat for Humanity says he'll put houses up on every vacant lot here, until this is a neighborhood again. He just might be the most hopeful man in New Orleans.

"The neighborhood had some flooding, but not the severe flooding," he says. "It's safely within a fairly secure levee system that's going to be rebuilt very nearby. And it's a neighborhood that has all the services in — power, water, sewer. We have all the people coming back, so our homeowners won't be alone in the neighborhood. So it's just a dynamic that takes place and takes place from the grass roots up."

Harry Connick's longtime drummer Bob French helped get this project going because of his fear that the music was going to die.

"You know what we need?" he asks. "We need some money from D.C. We need some money. It's all about dollars, it ain't about, 'can we rebuild?' Yeah, you can do anything that you want if you bring the money. Don't forget that we're a part of the United States. We need the dollars."

Video: The day music came back to the Ninth Ward And because you can't bring this many musicians together without music breaking out, it did. On a muddy and desolate street corner, on a cloudy day in a very sad place, some world-class musicians started to play. And people started to come out.

And with that moment, the music literally came back to the Ninth Ward for the first time in five months. That may be what it takes, and Habitat for Humanity is accepting donations for people who want to pay for a piece of the new New Orleans.

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