While the great Allen Toussaint sadly left us on November 10, 2015, his musical and philanthropic legacy lives on. Fittingly, the renowned composer, arranger, pianist and vocalist’s birthday celebration, Sunday, January 14, will benefit the New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness, an organization he co-founded with vocalist Aaron Neville in 1985. The event takes place from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Rock ‘n’ Bowl with music by two exceptional talents, pianist/vocalist Marcia Ball and guitarist/vocalist Deacon John & the Ivories.
The seed of the idea to form NOAAHH started with a song, or actually several songs. In 1985, the supergroup, USA for Africa, recorded and released a single, “We Are the World,” the profits of which were aimed to help relieve famine in Africa. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and produced by Quincy Jones, it featured a who’s who of artists including stars such as Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Billy Joel and many, many more.
That enterprise inspired two of New Orleans’ own superstars, Toussaint and vocalist Aaron Neville, to come up with a similar endeavor to benefit those less fortunate in the city. With the help of social activist Sister Jane Remson, they began organizing what would become the New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness. Their first step was to gather a select core of New Orleans’ finest artists at Toussaint’s Sea-Saint Studios to record “Give Today for Tomorrow,” a tune specially written by Toussaint, Sid Berger and Alan Huard.
Deftly and with his usual charm, Toussaint led the session that included a very impressive group of this city’s musicians—our own who’s who—including Irma Thomas, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, Pete Fountain, the Aubry Twins, Leigh “Lil’ Queenie” Harris, Raymond Myles, Tommy Ridgley and more.
Irma Thomas, who also performed at NOAAHH’s first benefit concert and others through the years, once remembered the scene in the studio. “There were a lot of people there, but there were no ego problems going on. A lot of the people who participated in that [session] are no longer with us. Life goes on and we’re still trying to help feed the hungry.”
Thomas’ words still ring true in relationship to the generous nature of New Orleans musicians and the continued work of the New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness. Through its history, the organization has distributed more than three million dollars in grants to over 50 non-profits and charities that provide food and shelter to those in need.
Allen Toussaint would certainly have approved of celebrating what would have been his 80th birthday as a benefit for NOAAHH. As declared by the city of New Orleans, January 14 is also Allen Toussaint Day.