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New Orleans Habitat Musicians Village – An Amazing Initiative

The New Orleans Habitat Musicians’ Village is the brain-child of local residents and musicians Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr. The aim of the Musicians’ Village is to provide a home for artists and musicians who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

The groundbreaking on 13th September 2007 of the Ellis Marsalis Centre for Music that forms an integral part of the New Orleans Habitat Musicians’ Village in the United States, took place in true musical fashion, with a party atmosphere enhanced by performances from the Shamarr Allen Combo, as well as Bob French and the Original Tuxedo Band.

Recognizing that music has always been a fundamental part of New Orleans’ culture, support for this project has been very positive. One of North America’s most successful rock bands, Dave Matthews Band, together with Neville Brothers and John Butler Trio, performed at a concert in Denver, raising $1.5 million which was set up as a grant toward the construction of the New Orleans Habitat Musicians’ Village.

The core of the two-storey Ellis Marsalis Centre for Music will be a performance area equipped with the latest sound and lighting systems and space for 150 moveable chairs. Additionally, the centre will contain teaching space for individual and group instruction, as well as recording studio facilities. The primary focus of the center will be music, but there are plans to integrate education and performance in a variety of artistic disciplines. The center will serve the purpose of being a meeting, rehearsal and performance space. Working musicians will have an environment in which to improve their studio and Internet skills, providing them with opportunities to contact creative artists elsewhere who have the same commitment to preserving and expanding New Orleans’ traditions such as the marching band, the Mardi Gras Indian tribes and the Second Line parade. New musicians will have the opportunity to form student-mentor relationships with older experienced musicians. It is hoped that this will ensure that the traditions of New Orleans music will continue from one generation to the next, something that is feared to be in danger of dying out. The nearby toddler park will be a meeting place for mothers and their little ones while waiting for the older children having music lessons, creating a family and community spirit based around music.

There will also be 70 single-family homes incorporated into the center which will be rented exclusively to displaced New Orleans’ musicians and other qualifying families. A number of well-known musicians have already taken up residence and are thrilled with their new living conditions. These include J.D. Hill, Freddy Omar, Peter “Chuck” Badie, Cherice Harrison-Nelson, Big Fine Ellen Smith, Bob French and Michael Harris. They all agree that they are already enjoying a sense of community that is unsurpassed and with the building and reconstruction going on all around them, there is a pervading sense of hope for the future of New Orleans and its legacy of music.

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