It’s been a bad week: first Leah Chase, then Dr. John, then Spencer Bohren.
Mrs. Chase had a beautiful send-off, and I am hoping that we can do the same for Mac, and Spencer. There was Mac’s huge second line last week, but I’ve heard rumors that there’s going to be something a lot bigger.
We’ve been asked to send photos for the celebration of Dr. John’s life. It’s virtually impossible to find anyone to say a negative word about Mac Rebennack and the way he treated his fellow musicians and everyone he came in contact with. This was an extraordinary man and spirit. I sure hope we can “do him right.”
Since Leah Chase passed, there’s been a strong movement to rename Lee Circle as “Leah Chase Circle” (Leah Circle, right?). But I just think that’s short-sighted and a quick reaction to the death of a beloved local icon.
I believe it would mean a lot to New Orleanians and to the millions locally and worldwide who see New Orleans as a music mecca if we managed a way to honor more than one person at this iconic location.
Being a music advocate, I’d sure like to see Fess, Fats, Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, James Booker, Earl King, Mahalia Jackson, Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet (okay, well maybe Louis and Sidney have their posthumous props at Armstrong Park), and all the other iconic musicians honored at the Circle on an ongoing basis. The greats that have been recognized worldwide are passing on and it would be wonderful if we could figure out a way to put up a series of smaller monuments all around the lower edge circling the former monument that we could add to over the years: Music Circle?
Drew Brees or Tom Benson Circle. Nope. Outside of football lovers, this isn’t gonna fly (some people don’t care about the Saints, especially people who live outside New Orleans and Louisiana, believe it or not). Dedicating the Circle to World War II? Nope: we have a tremendous, growing World War II Museum that’s two blocks away that does that very well.
The “Leah Circle” name has legs locally, but it won’t mean much to people outside New Orleans (unless they are chefs who knew Mrs. Chase, and of course those who appreciated her as a civil rights activist). Since the Circle is in the heart of the city, and we have so many people over centuries who have contributed to New Orleans worldwide reputation as a music city, we should rename it for music and not honor just one, but choose a few the hundreds of music makers who keep New Orleans in the brains and the music of people who live all over the world.
I imagine that the restaurateurs and those in the food industry will certainly be more influential than the poor, unheard (t least when it comes to asking the city to do something to support them) music folk in New Orleans, who have virtually created the city’s culture. The hospitality industry people (i.e., restaurant owners, hoteliers and the like) have the monetary resources to get their voices heard, petitions filled out, and political connections to get their way. Given, Mrs. Chase was a strong, vibrant, brave visionary who influenced many in this community.
But our musicians have literally had an impact not just here in the city but on people and music worldwide. They still do. I’m convinced that our musicians overall have been much more influential than Mrs. Chase.
Devoting the Circle to a music theme would give an opportunity for this city that we are a true music city; it would demonstrate how music has united us, created a unique culture that’s a product of the work of many talented people (not just one), and finally show to the outside world that we honor and love New Orleans’ greatest contribution to world culture: her music.
We could also honor more than one musician, as we should. We could probably place a minimum of 10 to 15 memorials with plaques in each quarter of the circle. And how about a sculpture of a music note, or a piano at the top of existing column?
Now all we need is the money and the will to make it happen, right?