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Still Singing Those Post-Katrina Blues

Singer John Boutte, in front of his Seventh Ward house, says,
Singer John Boutte, in front of his Seventh Ward house, says, "Why should I leave? This is my home. My ancestors' bones are here." (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)

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By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 26, 2007

NEW ORLEANS -- In a funky, crowded, smoke-filled bar in the French Quarter, locals are passing a tip bucket 'round the room, while singer John Boutte whoops and hollers, banging on his tambourine, crooning tales of regret and rage over the havoc wreaked by that witch Katrina. Adding his own spin to an old Randy Newman song, "Louisiana 1927":

President Bush flew over in a airplane . . .

President Bush said, "Great job, good job!

"What the levees have done to this poor Creole's land . . . ."

Backstage, in between sets, the Virgin Mary gazes down from her perch on the wall while the bar's managers count the proceeds, every single, every fiver, every ten-spot, counting aloud, one, two, three, four . . . $147. They count again . . . $147. And then hand the loot to Boutte, the son of seven generations of musicmaking New Orleans Creoles.

"I'm rich," Boutte says sardonically, fanning out the bills in his hands like a deck of cards.

Two years post-Katrina, it's like this for the city's musicians: New Orleans may be the music mecca, the birthplace of jazz, the place where you go to get your juice. But it's no place to make money.

"People tell me I should get the [expletive] out," says Boutte, at 48 and 5-foot-3, a bronze-skinned, bellicose, curly-haired Pan.

"Hell no. Why should I leave? This is my home. My ancestors' bones are here. . . .

"They've squashed my joy. But I'm not extinguished yet."

* * *

Nearly 4,000 New Orleans musicians were sent scattering after Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005. Many of them have been trying to return ever since. Today the soul of the city -- its rich musical legacy-- is at risk.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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