New Orleans Calling

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New Orleans Calling

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Last week, I visited New Orleans. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the city has changed dramatically. The historic French Quarter, which is the cultural heart of the city, is intact and ready for business. Surrounded by beautiful architecture, interesting cuisine, art galleries, antique stores, and boutiques, standing in the Quarter still has an eerie feeling. The feeling of a city abandoned.

Like a beautiful girl left standing alone at a dance, New Orleans yearns to be noticed. Though it once thrived on the company of others, without visitors, she is lost. It's so clear now that she was never meant to be alone.

The hurricane was not selective, ruining homes in the poorest and wealthiest neighborhoods. All and all, over 200,000 homes will need to be rebuilt. Drive through these areas, and you feel the sadness of lives turned upside down.

No industry should be more indebted to New Orleans than the music business. The city has fostered a reputation for extraordinary experimentalism.

Dixieland jazz, Cajun, Zydeco R&B;, Swing, Gospel and Funk, all have thrived under the hot Louisiana sun. There are no musical boundaries in New Orleans, giving artists like Louis Amstrong, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, Little Richard and others, the freedom to create. But New Orleans' influence is much broader, with artists like Tom Waits, Paul Simon, Elvis Presley, Miles Davis, Elvis Costello, Etta James, Van Morrison and even Outkast and Gnarls Barkley sharing their southern flair. New Orleans is at the heart of many recordings.

It will take years to rebuild this outstretched city and there's an enormous amount of work to be done. A shining example is the Musicians' Village. Harry Connick Jr and Branford Marsalis have joined with < ahref= target=new>Habitat for Humanity to build 375 new houses in the Ninth Ward. The homes there will be available to low-income New Orleans families, with an emphasis on housing local musicians. Of all the construction in New Orleans, the Musicians' Village is full of life, with hundreds of young people pitching in together to get it done. Just last week, the Latin bandleader Freddy Omar received the keys to his new home.

Dozens of CD's and DVD's have been released in the last nine months to help raise money for the rebuild.

Many organizations are offering help, and one of the coolest is the Music Maker Relief Foundation, whose mission is to give back, to the roots of American music. Music Maker has been dedicated to helping the true pioneers of Southern music for the last fifteen years. They built a non profit organization to help many of the musicians who live in extreme poverty. For Katrina relief, they've pull together half a million dollars in aid. The criteria for funding is that the recipient is rooted in a Southern musical tradition, they are 55 years or older and have an annual income of less than $18,000.

The Board of Directors for Music Makers includes BB King, Bonnie Raitt, Dickey Betts, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi.

If you ever needed an excuse to go to this wonderful town, now is the time.

Enjoy the food, the great shopping and the amazing music and let New Orleans know you haven't forgotten her.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat on KCRW.