Sweet Charity

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"We literally watched 150 years of music wash away..."

This blog, as you probably know, is dedicated to enjoying wonderful live shows for free. Technology and the generosity of artists and tapers help to allow Dave and I to access and share with you the works of these artists, and we do this all out of appreciation for them and their toils. This particular post constitutes a rare but important deviation from our normal mission of reviewing and sharing live shows.

It is sometimes overlooked that there are countless talented people who never make any real money in the circus that is and has been the music industry. For every artist we honor and share here, there are hundreds who make great music that never recorded and only heard their neighbors in a divey club or a backyard barbeque. For every millionaire musician, there are a thousand others that only barely made a living at it if they were lucky. It's a fickle business, and even those who scratch out a living are in peril of seeing that living evaporate at any time and for any reason. Pensions, healthcare, 401k, and stock options are all but unheard of in their line of work. Actually, even those who have seen the brief glimmer of popular acclaim at some time often walk away with nothing due to the raw deals they got. Musicians are not generally great businesspeople, which is why the major labels employ so many people who often aid in their exploitation.

As if many musicians, specifically in the Delta region, didn't have it bad enough, Hurricane Katrina dealt a serious blow to thousands of already vulnerable artists and former artists. Scores of people lost their homes, their belongings (including many priceless and irreplaceable instruments), and even their lives. Lots of these folks found themselves displaced to other places with little or no say in their relocation. They were left largely to fend for themselves. The governmental response to Katrina constitutes what I consider to be the worst mistreatment of our fellow citizens in my lifetime. Because New Orleans in particular was such musically rich area, it also meant that musicians took a huge hit.

This has been on my mind lately as I've been looking at increasing my charitable donations in the near future. I'm outlining a plan to make my own small statement, mostly to myself, by donating as much of my economic stimulus check at I can afford to. I've said before that this is not a political blog and I don't intend to be overly political here, but I'll just say that I've decided that I reason it's a better use of the money than buying crap I don't need (mostly made in China, where we're basically borrowing the money from in the first place).

I was trying to remember the name of a foundation I had heard about a few years back, I believe on NPR. I only remembered that they focused on assistance for blues artists, mostly elderly, who were going through hard times and needed help with their basic expenses such as rent, home repair, medical/burial expenses, and the like. I took what I knew to Ask Metafilter, which like the main Metafilter site (where I'm proudly member #31756) is frequented by some of the smartest people I've never actually encountered.

I was not disappointed. Below are the organizations suggested as good places to drop a few bucks to help out musicians in need:

Music Maker Foundation- This was the foundation I was looking for in the first place. Music Maker, in their own words, strives to help the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music gain recognition and meet their day to day needs. This involves helping out with basic life needs, artist development, and the preservation and proliferation of American musical traditions. They are also involved in providing assistance specifically to musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina. They focus specifically on low-income musicians 55 years or older. A really cool aspect of the foundation is that they provide the opportunity for many of these talented individuals to create and earn income from recording their music, which many have never had the luxury of doing before. If you are so inclined, you can support the foundation and and your love of music by choosing from the dozens of exclusive recordings they've made possible, rather than or in addition to the standard straight donation option. Also worth noting is their myriad of tangible donations. For example: If you decide to donate to support their headquarters, you can choose the specific piece of the project you want to cover, you can decide to feed an artist for a year, etc...All for "braggin' rights", as they put it.

Tipitina's Foundation- Tipitina's is on a mission to "to support Louisiana’s irreplaceable music community and preserve the state’s unique musical cultures. The history of the Tipitina’s Foundation originates from the Tipitina’s music venue, a revered New Orleans cultural icon that continues to be instrumental in the development and promotion of Louisiana music around the world. The Foundation works to support childhood music education, the professional development of adult musicians, and the increased profile and viability of Louisiana music as a cultural, educational, and economic resource." They seem to focus primarily on supporting school-age musicians, which is fantastic. Tipitina's offers a programs to provide instruments to music programs in public schools, an internship program, a musicians co-op, and music workshops as well. A donation here will go far in assisting Professor Longhairs, Dr. Johns, and Neville Brothers in the making.

The Jazz Foundation of America- The Jazz Foundation is the oldest foundation here, providing various forms of assistance to jazz and blues musicians for over 20 years. They've assisted thousands in obtaining shelter, food, medical care, replacement instruments, and more...and that's just since Katrina hit. They also put on an annual concert, "A Great Night in Harlem", to raise funding for their projects. CDs of last year's performance are available at their website.

The Rhythm & Blues Foundation- The R&B Foundation looks to be a provider of similar assistance as the groups already mentioned, but with a focus on R&B and soul musicians. Several grants and funds under their care are dedicated to giving a helping hand with necessities such as doctor visits, medication, eyeglasses, hearing aids, etc.

Musician's Village- This project, an offshoot of New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, focuses on creating a community in the Upper 9th Ward for a mix of displaced musicians and other community members. Upon completion, it will feature 72 new homes and a wonderful centerpiece: The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. The Center for Music will include music classrooms, an attached toddler park and elderly housing, and a state of the art 150 seat performance space. In their words, "America is better than this...Music Redeems". I couldn't agree more.

The Health Alliance for Austin Musicians- The Alliance works to assist Austin, TX musicians in obtaining low-cost sliding scale healthcare, focusing on wellness and preventative services. It's important to remember that Austin, like New Orleans, has been a hub of live music for some time. A lot of displaced Nola musicians have landed here, so helping the Austin alliance means you're helping displaced New Orleans musicians as well. Many active musicians lack healthcare coverage, so services like this one are instrumental in keeping them healthy and playing the tunes you love.

New Orleans Musician's Clinic- This group has essentially the same mission as the Health Alliance in Austin, but works with musicians who remained in or have returned to the Big Easy. They're a recipient of assistance from the Congo Square Project as well (website very much a work in progress, it appears...).

Well, there you have it. I hope that perhaps if you were thinking of supporting musicians in need, as I am, you now have some good places to look at. If you weren't considering it, hopefully you will think about it now. It's important to remember that much of the advancement and innovation in music doesn't occur in the pricey recording studios and it doesn't happen at the hands of multimillionaires; it has happened and will continue to happen in jam sessions in small apartments and performances in small clubs and bars, and it occurs at the hands of people who are often lacking cash and the basic necessities that it buys. The industry has proven time and time again that, by and large, it cares even less for the artists than it does for the consumers. If the health of this cherished art form is to be preserved, it will have to be through our efforts.

Dave and I make basically nothing from ad clicks. That's OK, because we don't do this for the money. However, we're going to put our scant money where our mouth is on this issue: If we ever get enough revenue for Google to cut us a check, we pledge to donate 50% of said revenue to the Music Makers Foundation to help struggling artists.

---Special thanks to Metafilter members dawson, arnicae, netbros, xo, cachondeo45, legotech, starfish and New Orleans' own ColdChef for their help with suggesting these great organizations.

*Please note that most of these organizations are new to me as well. While they all pass the fairly extensive look I've taken at the authenticity of their respective missions, as always you should ask questions if you have any concerns about how your money will be used. Charity Navigator is a good resource for larger charities than most of these. This is not a complete list, I'm sure, of all of the worthy groups providing assistance to musicians in need. Omission of any organization means nothing except that I am unaware of it.

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