Trumpeting a Music Hall of Fame

The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame: it exists—but does it really?

Currently, the organization is online only. There are no bricks and mortar or artifacts or an educational component to it. It’s purely a means for Louisiana musicians to be able to say that they have been “inducted” into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

And, as anyone (especially in media knows), it doesn’t make a difference who gives the award, how or why the honoree is chosen, everyone loves to be the recipient of an award. An award gives the recipient a celebrity status, and it implies that the recipient is worthy of recognition.

But I think a “Hall of Fame” implies—indeed, requires—a brick-and-mortar institution, with a demonstration of why the hall exists. Take the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, for example. It’s an iconic structure with a built-in multi-media experience, and provides visitors with the real reasons why such-and-so should be honored in an educational format.

Now, I’m not saying that awards to musicians aren’t a good thing (we do that ourselves every year at the Best of The Beat Awards, taking place again on January 24, 2014). We stand by our voting process, which includes nominations from the music community, as well as voting from both the music community and the public. Our “hall of fame” is the pages of OffBeat, past and present. But I’d love to be able to brick-and-mortar those reasons.

I’ve long been a proponent of a music museum and educational institution in New Orleans. According to Wikipedia, Louisiana currently has three music museums: the Delta Music Museum (Ferriday), the Rebel State Historic Site (Natchitoches Parish) and the New Orleans Jazz Museum (Old Mint, New Orleans).

Currently the Jazz Museum is closed and probably won’t reopen until 2015 at the earliest, when it’s supposed to encompass the entire second floor of the Old Mint, located at the edge of the French Quarter. All three museums are state-operated, and the state of Louisiana, frankly, has not been very supportive of music heritage in terms of museums as tourist attractions. We’ve been waiting patiently for the museum at the Mint to open and expand since Katrina.

What about Louisiana’s rich heritage of Cajun and zydeco music, unique in America? Our contributions to rhythm and blues and our influence on rock music? Funk? Modern jazz? Country and gospel music? Hip-hop and rap? Are those genres of music going to be included in the state museum?

Tennessee has eight music museums throughout the state; they have embraced their musical heritage, particularly of country music, R&B and blues. The Country Musi Hall of Fame in Nashville is everything you’d want a museum to be.

Memphis alone has four of these facilities: the Sun Studio, the Stax Museum, the Memphis Rock N’Soul Museum and Graceland. Now there’s another museum planned: the Blues Museum, which is being backed by The Blues Foundation.

There’s a great place for a music museum in New Orleans, if the developers would just think it through. Currently, three visions have been presented for the prime World Trade Center site located at the head of Canal Street at the river: two of them (Gatehouse Capital and Burch Group) cal for keeping the existing historic building and re-purposing it as a hotel, residential, retail and more mixed-use development. Both of these include a “music club” (or two) as part of the plan. Kermit Ruffins was trotted out yesterday by the Burch Group, saying he was signing a letter of intent to open a club in their development. I imagine the Gatehouse people may consider something in a similar vein (if you’ve been around long enough, you might remember that Irvin Mayfield’s first venture into club-dom was in a space in the World Trade Center, so this isn’t a new idea by any means).

I’m personally pleased that two of the three ideas for the WTC site include music performance as part of the mixed-use development. But let’s go back to the music museum idea. Can’t this fit into their scheme of things?

An attraction geared to visitors and to educate locals on our wonderful music and its influence would be much better suited to a location in the revitalized World Trade Center site.  People: think performance and a museum. They are a natural fit in that site.

"The Trumpet": Mixed-use and a monument--to music!

The third group has suggested something totally different: that we tear down the WTC building (it’s frankly not  very attractive building, IMHO, but it’s certainly iconic and historic) and erect a monument and attraction that will “symbolize” New Orleans’ rebirth. Honestly, I think that idea is not the best for the WTC site. It would create a few construction jobs, but certainly not as many as re-purposing and rehabbing the existing building. I’d personally love to see an iconic structure like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame property put there, but I don’t think the financing is in place for that.

Here’s an idea. You know the Holiday Inn on Loyola? Yeah, it’s a Holiday Inn, but it has a wonderful, almost 3D painting of a clarinet on the side of the building, which enhances the building and almost makes it a tourist attraction in itself. Consider the shape of the WTC building. With a little reworking, can’t you just see it cradling a huge trumpet? Now that would be a killer development: keep the building, light it and add a huge trumpet as the iconic monument, and there you have it: a great mixed-use development, with a hotel, residential, retail and a museum—and a monument all in one package. And we call it “The New Orleans Trumpet’…like London has “The London Eye,” and St. Louis, “The St. Louis Arch.”

We all win! And at least there’s some imagination and a real sense of what’s iconic about New Orleans in the planning process. I guarantee, guarantee that both The Trumpet and the Museum at The Trumpet will be a huge attraction and a benefit to the development, local citizens and to the tourism industry. You just can’t lose.