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Music and the Creative Spirit

Terence Blanchard: Requiem for Katrina

By Published: January 8, 2009

TB: Nobody is asking but Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton came to New Orleans to have a debate and Hillary said something that I thought was very telling. She said, "We act as though this is a poor country when it comes to rebuilding this city. We act like we don't have the money." And that's extremely telling. That's not some radical person mouthing off. This is a person that is trying to get into office. She said this in a public forum.

AAJ: What does the title, A Tale of God's Will mean for you? Is it because of all the adversity the people of New Orleans are facing and the lack of support, that it is only through God's will that everyone will get through this?

TB: Well actually, it goes way beyond that because after the hurricane, we all asked why this had to happen. And you might get answers to some of the technical questions but you never get answers to the "why." I grew up in the church and the thing that I learned is that God acts in mysterious ways. And one of the things that I started to see as a result of this massive tragedy is that people started to reassess values. I know that I did and material things became less valuable to me. It's all about relationships with family, friends and a commitment to community.

And out of that, I see a community that is coming together in ways that haven't been there in a long, long time. So that's a really great thing. And that's what I mean by, "A Tale of God's Will." Maybe we had to go through all of this to really determine what is really valuable in life and stop placing values on things that really have no value in the grand scheme of things. When I played with Art Blakey

Art Blakey
Art Blakey
1919 - 1990
, he used to say, "You will never find an armored car riding behind a hearse.

AAJ: When people have a life of equality and freedom, they will do anything to fight and keep it. But for African-Americans, Katrina only proved that there is an illusion of freedom. Will African-Americans ever be able to cross the same bridge in the name of justice and freedom?

TB: It's the thing that you constantly fight for and it's also what motivates you to move forward. But I would look way beyond African-Americans because to me, it's about poor people who are without many resources. Those are the people that are having the race problems and you have to ask yourself, why is that? It has to be a part of some scheme to keep us fighting while others are making money and doing the things that they want to do. Look at the Republican Party. The Secretary of State is a black woman, an African-American. And I was just at the Kennedy Center and I realized that the Republicans have put more African-Americans on staff at the White House than most other folks. So it may not be a race issue.

AAJ: Katrina and the failures in its aftermath will be talked about by history classes 100 years from now. If you were brought into a class in front of those students who had the opportunity to hear from someone who was there, how would you sum it all up so that they would be able to understand what really happened and the pain that is associated with it?

TB: I would tell them that Katrina is a story about human tragedy. It's not a regional story, it's a universal story. It's the story about honest hard-working people who were responsible contributors to their community. But in the midst of this tragedy, they were left in the lurch by the very folks that told them what they should be doing in order to be responsible citizens. And growing up as a kid, you heard this mantra that in order to be a productive person you needed to get an education, get a job and then be a productive member of society. Well a lot of folks here were doing exactly that. They might not have made a lot of money, but they owned their homes and even rented out their homes for supplemental incomes. They were paying their taxes and you cannot be more responsible than that. They cannot help it that their tax bill was much less than other folks. But they were still paying what they were supposed to pay under the law. And by those folks doing everything that they were supposed to be doing, what happened is a serious travesty of justice.

This should be one of those markers that stains our history and should never see us go back this way again. We seem to have this amazing ability to forget our history because who would have thought that after Hitler, anyone else coming close to that would ever be allowed to come to the surface again. So after all of these tragedies that we have had here in this country, between natural disasters, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes, why were we so ill prepared to for this situation?

AAJ: When I listen to your music, I hear someone that has deep respect and loyalty for a tradition, but also a person who feels a responsibility to move the music forward. Is this true for you and is it difficult?

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