Sons of New Orleans: An Account on Katrina

Second Line from Steve Prince’s Katrina Suite

This post will serve as more insight into the lives of the people from New Orleans and how they were affected by Hurricane Katrina, specifically from the perspective of a New ‘Orleanian’. I  talk about Wynton Marsalis, a huge influence from New Orleans on the Jazz music created today—Marsalis is an American virtuoso trumpeter, composer, teacher, and the director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. I also discuss Steve Prince’s perspective briefly and his public thoughts on Hurricane Katrina—I refrain from extreme detail on their personal accounts, because I find it difficult to use their personal accounts on such a tragic and impactful event.

In 2005, the natural disaster Hurricane Katrina hit the United States; on August 29th 2005, the center of Hurricane Katrina passed southeast of New Orleans. The event was a travesty; Katrina impacted the United States, and of course those who were born in New Orleans. It was a significant loss to our history, our culture, and of family. Of the people who were impacted by the event, many were artists including: Steve Prince and Wynton Marsalis. Both individuals, as sons of New Orleans responded to the event; Prince responded with his words and art and Marsalis responded with his words and music.

Wynton Learson Marsalis is an American virtuoso trumpeter, composer, teacher, and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City from New Orleans, Louisiana.  He is a part of a large musical family that developed in New Orleans. At an early age, he excelled at classical trumpet and jazz, which he played mainly at home with his family. At some point, Marsalis left to study at the Juilliard school of music. Although he intended to pursue a career in music, he ended up touring with extremely popular jazz groups like Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, ultimately changing his mind on the direction of his career. Eventually, Wynton Marsalis helped start the Classical Jazz summer concert series at Lincoln Center in New York City—years later, he became director of the Center and the musical director of the band, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

After some research, I came to discover Wynton Marsalis’ voice on the topic right after the events of Katrina. He voiced his concern with the country as a whole, specifically talking about the slow movement of the government and their actions before and after the events of Hurricane Katrina, focusing on the inadequate actions of the government. In one interview with Charlie Rose, he specifically discusses the failure of levee system, which caused several floods and contributed significantly to the damage from Katrina. After the many years the levee system approval took, 50 years after its approval there only existed a possible confirmation of 60-90 percent completion—primarily due to the funds necessary to complete the construction; though the cost were much greater after the events of Katrina.

In his words, it appears that the government wishes to help New Orleans because it is international importance and recognition as an area of extreme cultural significance in the United States—there is a desire to maintain the idea of New Orleans, but a dilemma in the lack of desire to help the people of New Orleans. There is failure in the government’s negligence of levee flood gate systems that were not sufficient enough to prevent such a natural disaster and a negligence of the impact on the people of New Orleans who beyond the loss of their history must worry on how they must proceed, including concerns of how will they find work and how will they protect and support their families. 

Beyond his commentary on the government and its system in the interview, Wynton Marsalis also expresses himself about the people and acknowledges their personal concerns; he understands them because of his background in New Orleans and his own family. One interesting comment he made was on his choice to not bring his horn right after the event when he planned to visit his home. He said that after speaking to a friend of his who was in New Orleans, he realized that the people of New Orleans were in a moment of survival: instead of bringing his trumpet, he “ought to bring clean water and food”. He agreed that there would be a time for the music, when the people are ready for that.

Marsalis Interview

(Skip to 8:15, though I suggest watching the entire interview)

Another short excerpt on Marsalis’ thoughts

Marsalis Musical Tribute/ Second Line Performance

Second Line Alternative Recording

As Wynton Marsalis had reflected on the people of New Orleans and his own feelings, Steve Prince, a son of New Orleans, also expressed his feeling with his art work when the people needed it—Prince has a series of pieces called the Katrina Suite, which tell the stories of several events surrounding New Orleans during the events of Hurricane Katrina, as well as dozens of other significant moments in our history which need some commentary or reflection on. Beyond the public viewings of his artwork, Prince has also commented on the personal history he had surrounding New Orleans, regarding the photographs and precious items of his own history lost to the event.

Steve Prince Katrina’s Veil: Stand at the Gretna Bridge

With his art, Steve Prince gives tribute to and keeps certain positive  and warm sections of history alive, while also helping maintain an awareness of the negative events which deserve recognition—with recognition, we can only hope that similar events will be avoided. One particular piece that comes to mind is Katrina’s Veil: Stand at the Gretna Bridge, which shows police officers denying young children escape from the impact of hurricane Katrina. Prince’s portrayal of the injustice at Gretna Bridge reminds me of Marsalis’ discussion on the inadequate movement of the country after Katrina or the insufficient amount of work on the Levee system that contributed to the damage from Katrina.

Steve Prince is an art evangelist and educator from New Orleans who utilizes printmaking, drawing, and sculpting as mediums to tell stories and positively impact and connect the community—he is an upcoming impact and force in the art world.

Both of these individuals are extremely significant parts of our society, as they push to spread positivity and awareness with their respective arts. Beyond their art and their efforts to preserve their art and use art for good, the two are not afraid to voice their opinion with their words. The two are sons of New Orleans, one of the most significant centers of culture and art in the United States, who have shared their art with a good purpose in mind. Their efforts to discuss the events of Katrina with both their words and art, focusing on the beauty of New Orleans alongside the acknowledgement of the negative that must not be forgotten, both as a symbol of respect and as stamp for improvement and reconciliation, are admirable and extremely significant to the growth of the nation.

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