A string of musicians came together with former President Bill Clinton on Saturday in New Orleans to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The Katrina 10 Power of Community event was held at the Smoothie King Center and emceed by Soledad O’Brien.
The Rebirth Brass Band, Ledisi, John Boutte, Tonya Boyd-Cannon, Kermit Ruffins, Stephanie Jordan, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Karen Antunez and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux performed at the event, along with the Warren Easton Charter High School Marching Band.
“Ten years ago, do you remember where you were?” asked Mayor Mitch Landrieu, adding that people thought they were going to have a “little hurricane party,” get out of the city and then come back in. “And then the levees broke.”
The performances of the night were a mix of somber and joyful. After the local high school marching band greeted the audience while they walked in, John Boutte kicked off the night with an emotional rendition of “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Ledisi played a soulful “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” as devastating photographs of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath were displayed behind her on a projection screen. Following an interfaith prayer and moment of silence, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux lead the Mardi Gras Indians on to the stage with their tambourines for a moving performance.
Bill Clinton talked about the uniqueness of #Nola last night, pointing out that nowhere else in the world has Mardi Gras Indians. The Mardi Gras Indians performed after a moment of silence at the #Katrina10 commemoration, later joining in on a second line with Kermit Ruffins and Rebirth. #music #culture #performance #mardigrasindians
“We are that strange seed that can grow underwater,“ said Congressman Cedric Richmond, talking about New Orleans’ recovery.
Photographs of the rebuilding effort played behind Stephanie Jordan as she performed “Home” and The Voice’s Tonya Boyd-Cannon sang “Wake Up Everybody” to images of school children and community centers.
Bill Clinton’s keynote speech talked about the experiences he’s had visiting New Orleans over the course of his life. He recalled when he was 15 years old and convinced his idol, trumpeter Al Hirt, to let him into a French Quarter club so that he could see him play. “That’s the kind of thing you never get over,” he said.
“Nothing sounds like the French Quarter and the food doesn’t taste this way anywhere else,” said Clinton, as he discussed the uniqueness of the Crescent City.
Former POTUS Bill Clinton gave the keynote speech at the #Katrina10 Power of Community event. He talked about honoring the memories of those who lost their lives after the hurricane. Memories and legacies “that deserve to be fully redeemed by erasing the lines that divide us” #nola (on assignment for Billboard ©Lorena O’Neil)
He said New Orleans should be proud of how far it has come, and that people should not underestimate “the sheer magnitude of what has happened against enormous odds.” Still, he said, with celebration should also come re-dedication.
“There’s a difference between being happy and being satisfied,” said Clinton, saying that as Americans, “our job is to always find a more perfect union.”
“You will not lose the history of jazz or the flavor of your gumbo. You can still dance your way down the street at the end of a burial. You will not lose what you offer, if all of a sudden, without regard to race, we have the same chances at jobs, income, education, healthcare, everything, in the future.”
He continued, “The people who died left behind memories and loved ones and legacies that deserve to be fully redeemed by erasing the lines that divide us.”
“Have a good time, you’ve earned it,” said Clinton. “Laugh tonight and dance to the music, you earned it. And tomorrow, wake up and say, ‘Look at what we did. I bet we can do the rest, too.’”
Despite the impressive roster of musicians and speakers, the Smoothie King Center was only about a quarter full. New Orleanians commemorated the solemn anniversary in different ways, either through other festivities or simply by going about their daily lives.
Those who were in attendance at the Smoothie King Center ended the last official Katrina 10 event with joy.
Kermit Ruffins, Rebirth Brass Band, the Mardi Gras Indians and Ivan Neville and Dumpstaphunk closed the night with “Professor Longhair” on stage, before leading the crowd out in a second line. The Stooges Brass Band joined in, and locals danced on the street as they marched past the Super Dome, honoring their city in quintessential New Orleans style.