Hurricane Katrina scattered New Orleans music across the U.S.

An upside to Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flood was the infusion of New Orleans culture throughout our country.  With the city almost completely evacuated, its people, music, cooking, way of talk and style scattered across the U.S. like seeds from a dandelion blowball.

Texas received the largest number of evacuees. Austin, which like New Orleans is a regional music mecca, swelled from the addition of Cyril Neville, the Iguanas, the Radiators and other musicians — some who came to call themselves “Texiles” while playing music and waiting to return to their hometown. The resultant mix was described by Cyril Neville as having the “gumbo spill into the chili.”

Here’s more on how some of New Orleans finest musicians fared:

  • Fats Domino, the city’s greatest rocker, is a lifelong resident of the Lower Ninth
    Fats Domino was not only a major force in Rock n' Roll, he help inspire sk.
    Fats Domino and his family were rescued by Coast Guard from his lower Ninth Ward home.

    Ward. He stayed in his home through the hurricane and was rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. But he lost all his gold records and memorabilia.

  • Irma Thomas – The Soul Queen of New Orleans weathered the storm and the aftermath in Austin Texas. She rebuilt her East New Orleans home and she won a grammy for her post Katrina recorded album.
  • Dave BartholomewThe home and studio of the man behind many of New Orleans R&B hits of the 1950’s suffered considerable flood damage but he and his family (His son Don B. is a successful hip-hop producer) have bounced back with now three generations of Bartholomew’s making music.
  • The Radiators – Once described as New Orleans’ longest running and most successful rock band are no longer an act officially–though you can occasionally catch them on special events and Jazzfest. Hurricane Katrina landed on guitarist Dave Malone’s birthday. He and his wife struggled to rebuild their home and ended up living outside of New Orleans.
  • Al Johnson – The man who made it possible to be  “Carnival Time” any time of the year, lost his  long-time house on Tennessee Street in the Lower Ninth Ward  He now lives in the Musicians Village  where he penned Lower Ninth Ward Blues
  • The Iguanas – The members of this latin-tinged roots rock band were on tour at the
    The Iguanas made a temporary home in Austin while waiting to return to New Orleans. Joe Cabral (left) and Rene' Coman performing at French Quarter Festival this year.
    The Iguanas made a temporary home in Austin while waiting to return to New Orleans. Joe Cabral (left) and Rene’ Coman performing at French Quarter Festival this year.

    time and separated to find evacuated family members. They regathered in Austin and became part of the flexible ensemble of New Orleans musicians known as Texiles. The band has had three CD releases since Katrina.

  • The Hot 8 Brass Band – This innovative group could be called the Adversity Brass Band.  Before Katrina, three of its band members had died — two from shootings.  After Katrina, a fourth member was shot to death while driving in his car with his family. Another member lost the use of his legs in an accident. The band scattered across the country after Katrina and could easily have disbanded permanently. But it regrouped, recorded a grammy-nominated album and still perform today.
  • Dr. Michael G. White – The University professor and clarinetist lost his home in Gentilly, including many valuable jazz documents. But he’s back in town and working as hard as ever.
  • Henry Butler – Fortunately the talented piano virtuoso was convinced to evacuate his Gentilly home, which was devastated by flood waters. Blind since birth, he can’t tell you what the damage looked like but he can describe the feel of his piano keys as they fell apart in his hands. Last year, he and Steve Bernstein released “Viper Drag” to rave reviews and he regularly performs. 
  • Kermit Ruffins – “What good is a million dollars if you’re not in New Orleans.” The widely recognized ambassador to New Orleans evacuated to Houston with a large extended family and pets. He returned to New Orleans after the storm and continued his routine up until last year. Ironically, his wife got a job in Houston and he now splits his time between New Orleans and Houston.
  • Donald Harrison Jr.- This lifelong New Orleans resident, Big Chief and heralded jazz saxophonist has a fear of hurricanes borne from his youthful experience escaping from Hurricane Betsy’s flood. But he stuck it out in the city cause his mother-in-law wouldn’t leave. They slept on the ballroom floor of the Hyatt Regency during the storm and aftermath, escaping to Baton Route four days later. 
  • John Boutte' nervously watched events unfold from Brazil, finally talking one of his sisters and mother to evacuate before Katrina hit.
    John Boutte’ nervously watched events unfold from Brazil, finally talking one of his sisters and mother to evacuate before Katrina hit.

    Shamar Allen – This young trumpet player’s home was right next to a levee that broke. He now owns a home in the Musician’s Village. He contributed some key songs to the musical Nine Lives that focuses on New Orleanians who survived Hurricane Betsy and Katrina.

  • John Boutte was in Brazil at the time and watched almost helplessly the hurricane reports from afar. Fortunately, he finally convinced one of his sisters and mother to evacuate but his other two sisters were stranded on an interstate highway bridge for five days.
  • Terence Blanchard – Much of this jazz trumpeter’s story was told in the Spike Lee movie “When the Levees Broke.” In the documentary, you can see him and his mother enter her flood-wrecked near Lake Ponchatrain. Blanchard wrote the score for the documentary and won a grammy for subsequent album he released.

Last week and this week, I’m honoring the survivors of Hurricane Katrina who dealt with intense horror, long hot days, and many months and in some cases years of uncertainty about their future. And yet, they returned to New Orleans, their home and rebuilt. Last week’s Katrina show here  and this week’s show.

Hurricane Katrina 10-year anniversary is a time to reflect

The 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina affords us the opportunity to remember and reflect on how devastating nature can be when compounded by human failure.

katrina3
Eighty percent of New Orleans was underwater after the levees failed during and after Hurricane Katrina struck.

As often happens, the poor, elderly and vulnerable populations suffered disproportionately because of their inability to get out of harms way and the paucity of their personal resources to recover afterwards.

Sadly, that seems to be a worldwide characteristic. But what Katrina revealed was that a country that could deliver troops anywhere in the world within two days could not come to the rescue of one of its most culturally rich cities and its residents. And the residents that suffered the most were poor.

I love my country and as a 30-year state employee, I believe in the positive power of government. But local, state and federal governments failed in Hurricane Katrina, from insufficient evacuation efforts, to the negligence in building and maintaining the levee system, to the limp rescue and recovery efforts and insufficient relief and restoration programs that followed.

Like most folks who witnessed from afar, I was alarmed and shamed by the failure to evacuate the city’s low-income, elderly and vulnerable population. Roughly 100,000 people were left behind, stranded in a flooded city, fleeing like rats to the Superdome, Convention Center, bridges and rooftops, stuck there for days in insufferable heat with little food and water.  Roughly 1,800 residents died.

A destroyed home New Orleans lower Ninth Ward. The writing on the outside was from rescue workers.
A destroyed home New Orleans lower Ninth Ward. The writing on the outside was from rescue workers.

I had planned to visit my sister that fall. She had moved back to New Orleans from the Northwest the year before. I already had my plane ticket when on that Sunday morning in late August I watched Mayor Ray Nagin on national television urge the city’s evacuation with the words: “We’re facing the storm most of us have feared.”

I was out of town, watching the TV at a hotel. When I got home later that day, a phone message from my sister said she was going to hunker down and stay in the city.  I wouldn’t hear her voice again for over a month.

Her message had been left on Saturday night.  Nagin’s announcement was made Sunday morning. The hurricane made landfall near New Orleans on Monday morning, August 29, and by Tuesday 80 percent of the city was underwater.

The power of the water when the levees broke pushed houses off foundations and cars down several blocks.
The power of the water when the levees broke pushed houses off foundations and cars down several blocks.

My sister did eventually evacuate. Unlike many of the residents who were left behind, Katie had a car and the financial means to buy gas and survive the many months of uncertainty that followed. She was lucky yet she suffered so much personal anguish and loss that I doubt she will ever live again near the hurricane zone.

I rebooked my flight for Jazz Fest that April which did occur and reignited my love for New Orleans culture. My sister gave me the devastation tour of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth ward, both areas completely submerged by what is now recognized as one of the worst civil engineering failures in U.S. history

There are a great many things the city and its residents can take pride in achieving over the decade. The city took a death blow and got up off the mat and survived–perhaps even thrived. New Orleans is a wonderful place to visit and live in. But it has changed.

Maybe some of the changes are good, maybe not. But Katrina, like the 1927 flood and Hurricane Betsy, has left its mark.

I’m dedicating my next two radio shows  — (First Podcast and Second Podcast)to Katrina survivors.  In my next post, I’ll tell brief stories of how some of the New Orleans musicians I play on my show weathered the storm.

Dew Drop Founder’s Grandson Keeps Hope Alive

Kenneth Jackson wasn’t quite old enough when it mattered, and I could tell how much he wish he had been. (You can play the show with his interview including music from the Dew Drop era while finishing this short article.)

During the mid-20th Century, the Dew Drop Inn rocked New Orleans, making musical history and forging a special place in the hearts of all the musicians and fans that were lucky enough (and had IDs) to have been there.

You can find the Dew Drop on LaSalle Street but its not yet open to the public.
You can find the Dew Drop on LaSalle Street but its not yet open to the public.

“I never was really old enough to enjoy the shows and everything. You know I would kind of sneak in whenever I was down here late and had to bring somebody something but they would run me from out of there,” said Jackson as we toured the fabled nightclub, hotel, and restaurant.

If love could rebuild the Dew Drop Inn, Jackson would have enough to build it twice over. His affection for the shuttered double-storefront on LaSalle Street is almost as obvious as his love for the man who started it all, his grandfather, Frank Painia.

As detailed in my previous post, Painia built a key piece of music industry infrastructure during the New Orleans R&B golden age. But when Painia died in 1972, the music at the Dew Drop Inn stopped as well.  The family retained and operated the business, primarily as a hotel, until Hurricane Katrina.

The flood mess has been cleaned out. Artifacts have been saved. Some framing and some new wiring has been done.  Also, the building has a temporary facade that highlights the history contained with in. But its not yet ready to be open to the public.

Kenneth Jackson, grandson of the Frank Painia who started the Dew Drop Inn in 1939, keeps the flame alive for bringing the establishment back to its former glory.
Kenneth Jackson, grandson of the Frank Painia who started the Dew Drop Inn in 1939, keeps the flame alive for bringing the establishment back to its former glory.

Jackson envisions a day when folks can come back to the Dew Drop and get a meal, catch a show, even spend the night or host a party.  He thinks the time is right. Nearby streets like Freret and O.C. Haley are undergoing a renaissance of new business and renovation.

Across the street from the Dew Drop, the infamous “Magnolia,”  a crime-ridden housing project that also was home to hip hop artists Lil Wayne, Juvenile, Jay Electronica and Magnolia Shorty, is gone. In its place is a lower density, stylish new development called Harmony Oaks that provides a mix of market rate rentals and public housing.

One of the groups to spearhead the community’s revitalization, Harmony Neighborhood Development, is working with Jackson and his family to secure the funding necessary to get renovations started. But all the pieces have yet to come together.

Frank Painia had a practice of painting bull's eye targets behind the stage at the Dew Drop Inn.
Frank Painia had a practice of painting bull’s eye targets behind the stage at the Dew Drop Inn.

Tulane University’s School of Architecture has weighed in with plans and archival assistance. And there’s a wealth of love and affection for restoring the business by New Orleans musicians, young and old.

There may be a day soon when Kenneth Jackson will be able to enjoy a club performance at the Dew Drop Inn. After all, while its possible to be too young to party at the Dew Drop Inn, you’re never too old.

This is the second installment of the Dew Drop Inn.  Read about its history here.

(Article Update July 2018:  Hope for renovation have faded. The Paina Family has put the property up for sale.  )

 

Dew Drop Inn played key role in New Orleans R&B era

Perhaps its a stretch to compare the Dew Drop Inn to Congo Square. But I see similarities between the two. (You can listen to the show while reading this post)

Just as Congo Square served as a gathering place for African American commerce and cultural exchange up through the mid-19th Century, the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans provided a safe and comfortable place for New Orleans musicians of the mid-20th Century to gather, support each other and play music.

Through the 40's til Hurricane Katrina, the Dew Drop Inn was an
Located in New Orleans Central City neighborhood, the Dew Drop became a second home for musicians.

One served as the genesis for Jazz and the other was an incubator for New Orleans R&B and early rock and roll. The Dew Drop Inn was not just a nightclub and bar, it was a vital regional center for African Americans, particularly musicians, at a time when the South and New Orleans enforced apartheid.

I’m not sure if those thoughts initially entered Frank Painia’s head when he decided to expand his barbershop on LaSalle Street to include a restaurant and bar. Most likely, he just saw a business opportunity across the street from where one of the largest housing projects in New Orleans was being built (the Magnolia Projects). By expanding his business, he provided employment for his brothers and eventually other relatives. He christened it the Dew Drop Inn in 1939.

With America mobilizing for the war effort, Painia added a hotel next door so African Americans on the move would have a place to stay when visiting or passing through New Orleans. The combination of barbershop, restaurant, lounge and hotel made the Dew Drop Inn a convenient stop for travelers.

But it was Painia’s venture into booking performers that would put the Dew Drop solidly into music history. He started by producing shows at a nearby boxing arena and high school auditorium. Since he had the Dew Drop, he could house and feed the touring musicians, who in turn would jam in the lounge after the official performance. It wasn’t long though before he started booking local acts to perform at the Dew Drop.

Then in 1945, just in time to entertain returning soldiers and their dates, Painia built the “Groove Room.” Located behind the Dew Drop, this two-story music and dance hall with a balcony and elevated band stage established an upscale ambiance with top-flight performers of the day, including Billie Holiday, Big Joe Turner, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and Amos Milburn. Later Ray Charles, James Brown, Solomon Burke, and Bobby “Blue” Bland would grace the stage. Many homegrown performers including Earl King, Huey “Piano” Smith, and Allen Toussaint launched their careers from the Dew Drop.

The Dew Drop was home for many musicians, whether passing through or getting their act together. It was a 24-hour operation where musicians could eat, meet, clean up with a haircut, shoeshine and shower, and plan their next step. They would play for white audiences downtown then head back to the Dew Drop and jam with the house band or whoever was performing until daylight.

A dance contest for female impersonators at the Dew Drop Inn with Bobby Marchan  on stage. Ralston Crawford Collection,William Ransom Hogan Jazz Archive, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University
A dance contest for female impersonators at the Dew Drop Inn with Bobby Marchan on stage. Ralston Crawford Collection,William Ransom Hogan Jazz Archive, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University

The nightclub show included an emcee, comedians, magicians, dancers and, of course, the bands. It was not uncommon for the emcee or some of the dancers to be female impersonators (to use the term of that day). Bobby Marchan, who would sing with Huey Smith and the Clowns, got his start in New Orleans as part of a drag show called the Powder Box Revue.

Most New Orleans musicians of that period have stories about the Dew Drop. Grandpa Elliot Small of Playing for Change remembers watching his uncle play the harmonica there. Deacon John tells of how he broke into the recording business when he was approached by Allen Toussaint while playing guitar at the Dew Drop. “My head just popped open at the opportunity . .  .the very next day we were in Cosimo’s studio recording with the great Ernie K-Doe. “

But my favorite story is how Richard Penniman got his mojo at the Dew Drop Inn. Things weren’t popping in J&M studio that September day in 1955. Producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, a native of Seattle, called for a break and took his young protege for a drink. It was a slow day at the Dew Drop until Richard discovered the upright piano in the corner and banged out a tune so bawdy that Blackwell had to hire a writer to clean up the lyrics. Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti was a crossover hit that propelled him to national fame.

While the Dew Drop Inn was established, owned and frequented by African Americans, white patrons were allowed in. But this meant that Painia was arrested at times when police raided his business and charged him with  “racial mixing.” Eventually, he successfully sued the city, establishing the right for businesses to serve any customer they wanted.

The Dew Drop today is shuttered today but there's hope it can once again entertain people.
The Dew Drop today is shuttered today but there’s hope it can once again entertain people.

By the end of the 60’s, changing musical trends, desegregation and Painia’s declining health brought an end to Dew Drop Inn’s musical performances. The business carried on mostly as a hotel until Hurricane Katrina caused so much damage, it could not reopen.

The building still stands in its Central City neighborhood but is shuttered. Yet, Painia’s grandson, Kenneth Jackson carries a long-held torch that the Dew Drop will once again serve as a social and music hub for the community.

I’ll have that story in next week’s post (available now). Here’s the podcast of the show featuring  musicians who played at the Dew Drop Inn and we’ll hear in Mr. Jackson’s own words about the Dew Drop’s glory days.