Dr. Steven Price is a warm and gregarious man. His eyes twinkle in a certain way when he speaks to you. That twinkle radiates outward to embrace the people who are in its glow, and it comes from a strength that most of us hope we never have to use. It is that twinkle and its effects that make Price the 2013 OffBeat Best of the Beat Heartbeat Award recipient.
Price has been a music fan all his life. “I’ve loved the music of New Orleans. I knew Kermit Ruffins a little bit. I would go to Vaughan’s [where Kermit Ruffins had an over 20-year residency on Thursday nights] or to the House of Blues all the time to enjoy the music, but I never knew any of the musicians until Daniel died.” Daniel Price was Steven’s son, a fantastic artist whose subjects included musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, and other inhabitants of the streets of the Crescent City. A NOCCA graduate, Price was murdered by a gunman outside his apartment in San Francisco while defending his wife in 2003.
In the year following this sudden tragedy, Price recalls, “I tried to set something up to remember him by, and we set up a scholarship at NOCCA for musicians and artists in his name. Daniel used to frequent Vaughan’s a lot, and he got to know Kermit. I’ll always remember that at the memorial they had at NOCCA following his death, the Treme Brass Band with Kermit and Uncle Lionel showed up without being asked and they played at the memorial service, which was very touching.” Price became a board member of NOCCA, and “that was the year that Troy Andrews and Jonathan Batiste graduated. I became friends with them, and with them, Kermit, and Stanton Moore, we set up a fundraiser called ‘Home for the Holidays’ which happens around December 23 each year. It raises money for the Daniel Price Memorial Scholarship which raises money for artists and musicians for college scholarships, summer camps, and visiting colleges around the country.”
“Home for the Holidays” has been one of the best shows of the year since it started, with the lineups including Andrews, Batiste, Irma Thomas, John Boutte, and many others. It has raised in the neighborhood of $700,000 in donations and given college scholarships to nine students. “Also, right after Daniel died, we hooked up with WWOZ,” continues Price, “and we put together a calendar with Daniel’s art in it, and I got to know the staff of WWOZ, and they’ve really helped push the fundraiser.” Although people who have suffered heartbreak and loss turn them into positive acts of charity and compassion all over the world, it seems to be a particularly New Orleans-type response to take something so devastating and let it motivate people to help others by celebrating the life lost. It is a very New Orleans way to mourn. Jazz funerals are the best example of those types of actions, but the concert and scholarship fund are another beneficial way that people performs such acts. “It was through this,” says Price, “that I became acutely aware how giving the musicians of New Orleans are. And I think that it’s the best one night of music all year long.”
However, Price has not stopped there. He also has helped set up another program to benefit young musicians in New Orleans. “Troy asked me to be on the board of his foundation,” states Price, “which has been slowly taking off. We’ve hooked up with Tulane to support young musicians who can be mentored. Every Tuesday they come over and, under the tutelage of Donald Harrison Jr., they’re given lessons, and not only on music but on ways of selling yourself and the nitty-gritty ways of the music world and how to survive in it. So my love for the musicians has grown even more, and I’m overjoyed to be a part of the Trombone Shorty Foundation.” Such affection goes both ways. When asked about Price, Andrews says, “Dr. Price is my role model and an inspiration to me every day. I look up to him and admire his efforts in giving back graciously.”
As he looks at the current state of New Orleans, he sees that the arts culture is on the upswing. “For instance,” he points out, “the arts scene has changed dramatically since Katrina. They’re having more things like the arts lofts in the Bywater which has improved the culture of the arts world. Here. That was something that was needed, a place for artists to get together, hang out, and promote their art.” And the music of New Orleans still serves as an inspiration. “It’s a unique sound played by a unique people who are warm, creative and funky.”