THE feminist singer-songwriter has been living in the Crescent City for about a decade now, and she works with a group that enlists kids into old-school jazz bands. DiFranco is the latest in my Trust Me On This series I’m handling for Salon.
Di Franco told me about her first visit to New Orleans, where she saw the Rebirth Jazz Band perform.
I ended up inviting the Rebirth on a tour with me and we spent a whole summer together so I got to know those guys and became friends especially with the snare drummer, Derrick Tabb. Derrick, as it turns out, is this deeply compassionate, dynamic person who, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, saw this incredible deficit in New Orleans for kids. The infrastructure was so devastated by that storm that there were barely any schools open, let alone things for kids to do after school or places to go. So Derrick just said to himself, “I’m going to start a music school for these kids,” and he did! With all the skills that you or I would have in these matters, he started this free after-school music program, which has now grown exponentially and they have like 150 students.
And a bit later:
I think these poor kids, who have even less opportunity than most, are no different from all kids. Unless you’ve had the opportunity to do something like learn the language of music — which is the universal language. I’ve had these experiences where I go to the other side of the world and I’m in the jungle in Burma with people escaping a violent death at the hands of a dictatorship and I show up a privileged, white person with this chasm between us … as soon as I get the guitar and play a song, it’s like, bam, family. You know? Music, you can’t underestimate the power it has to connect us through time and across the globe and help us to communicate with each other and see each other as humanity.
Our whole conversation is here.