Five years after Katrina, New Orleans musicians still struggling

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Irma Thomas in New Orleans

Half a decade ago this Sunday, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the Gulf Coast, eventually wreaking $81 billion in damage and killing over 1,800 people. In part because of a weak national economy and the recent BP oil spill, New Orleans has yet to fully recover from the disaster.

Among the hardest hit are Louisiana musicians, who depend upon convention, tourist and touring dollars to break even every year. Scanner Brian spoke to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Golden Globe-nominated composer Terence Blanchard, Grammy winner Irma Thomas and other locals about the current crisis during the early days of the spill about whether the music industry in the Southeastern U.S. is doing. How can it survive, we asked?

Mayor Landrieu: "It's not an impossible dream to bring Bourbon Street back to a musical place that people want to go to. We just gotta figure out what live music should be… but if you can't teach it, as Irma says, you can't learn it. The most important thing to remember is that our culture is bigger than just tourism."

Paul J. Arrigo of the Baton Rouge Convention and Visitors Bureau: "Food, football, faith and festivals."

Irma Thomas: "I just heard a second grader singing a [version of] 'Summertime' to have you in tears. You know, every neighborhood I grew up in had a church and a bar — if you have any kind of talent and find out at an early enough age, you'll end up putting it to use."

Nick Spitzer, host of "American Routes": "Katrina revealed the ability of the Gulf to endure, but we still need progressive leadership. The catastrophe turned into an opportunity to create great music for an industry that was once called the resurrection; now it's called the baptism."

Terence Blanchard: "Herbie Hancock once said, 'New Orleans has always been the heart and soul of this country. New Orleans is a city of moments.' When I'm out of town or overseas, as soon as people find out I'm from New Orleans, they have wonderful stories about the city. To me, once we find our path out of this, we'll flourish. The people want it to happen."

Jan Ramsey, owner of Offbeat Magazine. "We have limited financial resources outside the city. 'Treme' is going to be a huge boon for local music, but the real challenge is to convince people with money to recognize what we bring to the city."

Arrigo: "We have to realize how good we already are. We just had twenty-some-odd nominees at the Grammy's."

"Any more questions or comments?" Landrieu asked before wrapping up his final meeting as the state's Lieutenant Governor and Mayor-Elect. Before anyone could be respond, the sky answered with a thunderous, rippling boom.