New Orleans is known for its music. But 10 years ago, the music was drowned out by the howling winds and rising water brought by Hurricane Katrina.
Musicians joined other residents fleeing the city. Part of the effort to bring New Orleans back to life focused on bringing back the musicians and creating a place where they could live and work, and make music.
“Losing that heritage would have taken away the beating heart of New Orleans and damaged it forever,” said Jim Pate, executive director of the nonprofit New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. “We are such a unique and fragile environment that we needed to get our musicians back.” The Musicians’ Village, he said, was one of the first places to which they could return and put down roots.
With help from 40,000 volunteers, Habitat for Humanity built 72 low-cost homes in one of the city’s residential neighborhoods. The village includes a community center named after New Orleans jazz great Ellis Marsalis that features a performance hall and recording studio.
More than 170 musicians, like classically trained avant-garde cellist Helen Gillet, have moved in. She joined the crew building the homes and “learned the empowering feeling of actually learning how to do construction, when I thought I would be hopeless at it. It was a great feeling, and then meeting other musicians in that context really brought us together.”
Now, she is recording CDs and collaborating with her neighbors, as New Orleans celebrates the resurgence of its vibrant music culture.