The pain isn’t over for Baton Rouge and surrounding communities. Even after this once-in-a-millennium flood, the region continues to be hammered by thunderous afternoon storms dumping inches of water followed by the usual tropical heat blast that Louisiana is famous for in late summer.
It’s not as if this area needs any more grist (or precipitation) to sing the blues.
The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 affected over a half million people, displacing 200,000 African Americans along the lower Mississippi River — many of whom joined the Great Migration that carried jazz and blues to Chicago and other northern cities (and ultimately the world.)
The devastation inspired a great many songs, perhaps most notably When the Levee Breaks by Memphis Minnie who was born in Algiers across the river from New Orleans. She wrote and performed the song with her husband Kansas Joe McCoy but you might be more familiar with the Led Zeppelin adaptation of the song.
And of course, there’s Randy Newman’s seminal Louisiana 1927 which became closely associated with the New Orleans flood following Hurricane Katrina — another song-inspiring catastrophe.
Of the many Katrina songs, I think Marva Wright whose eastern New Orleans home was destroyed under eight feet of water best captures the frustration of being stranded in a city surrounded by deep poisonous water and no relief available. Though she was able to leave the city before Katrina, she puts you right up on a baking rooftop waving towels at the helicopters as they fly by in her song The Levee is Breaking Down. She follows that song up on her album “When the Levees Broke,” with a heart crushing lament called Katrina Blues.
This is the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with the city mostly recovered. But now with the Louisiana Flood of 2016, there’s a new recovery effort that is underway and new music being written to chronicle the struggles.
Check my show out this Thursday, I’ll be playing Memphis Minnie, Marva Wright, Zachary Richard and John Boutte’s version of Louisiana 1927. I’m also expecting to get on the phone with Roddie Romero who fronts the Lafayette-based band, Roddie Romero & the Hub City All-Stars to hear about how things are going over there and to talk about his band’s soon-to-be-released album, “Gulfstream.”