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.

 

 

  • Jeff A Hale, New Orleans

    Nicely put, well thought-out, and convincingly stated, Jan. This is a torch you have been carrying for a long time, and it is time that others stepped up. I, for one, am “all in” — for something actually worth being “all in” about.

    With earnest respect to and for the LA State Museum’s existing efforts to at least carve out some space for a quality local music history exhibit (Greg Lambousy and others are doing tremendous work with so few resources), let me state for the record that the continuing travesty of the lack of a truly world-class jazz (and I would add blues) museum — in a city where they both were essentially created as musical forms (Congo Square) — is something that MUST be rectified soon. Not only does the city need this, so does the state of Louisiana and (the case can be made) the nation as a whole. As the Marsalis family (and others) have been reminding us for decades, across the lengthy span of human existence, American Jazz and Blues are the only uniquely American forms of musical expression.

    To see St Louis (which actually calls itself the “National Jazz Museum”), San Francisco, Harlem/NYC build, support, and reap the benefits of having important jazz museums (usually combined with diverse public musical performance and other programming that enriches the local culture in many ways) makes me very sad and even a little angry. New Orleans should not lack such an important museum.

    I’m not sure whether the WTC building “opportunity” will ultimately be the spark that ignites a successful New Orleans Jazz/Blues building campaign, but count me in to help Jan. Surely this can make the “priority list” for the New City Renaissance that Mitch Landrieu espouses, as well as the culture-driven Louisiana economy that Jay Dardenne promises?

    It is about time.

    –Jeff Hale, Director of Institutional Advancement, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

  • JohnInTucson

    Jan – I love this idea! I disagree that the WTC is not attractive. I like it a lot. We were able to go up to the top during our first Jazz Fest in ’92. I’ve liked that building ever since and hoped for its renaissance. It’s odd, dated, and IMHO, very cool. A multi-story museum with exhibit, performance and dining spaces – maybe even rehearsal and educational spaces. Excellent.

  • Mike Shepherd

    Jan,

    You have long advocated a “Louisiana music museum” for New Orleans. I wholeheartedly support that concept. It is needed!

    However, I don’t understand your continuing to ignore The Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame’s efforts to accomplish exactly that, a Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame brick &
    mortar Museum and venue in NOLA. You are aware of this.

    We not only have the desire, we also have a business plan, content and a focus.

    The Louisiana music industry, or lack of same, has been divided for decades by a failure to work together. You, in espousing your possibility of a plan, without considering real possibilities like the LMHOF, are guilty of that same lack of cooperation that has hamstrung Louisiana’s music.

    This time, however, you have surpassed the usual. You have now questioned whether the LMHOF exists, implying that our Inductees are not righteous or worthy. When you do so, you impugn the integrity of not only our organization, but of each and every one of our Inductees.

    To claim the LMHOF has no artifacts and no educational component, clearly indicates that you obviously have never researched the LMHOF web site. Over 870,000 (in less than 7 years) visits are a testament to the scope of the site and its offerings.

    Worst is the subtlety of falsely stating that Wikipedia shows Louisiana currently has only three music museums, conveniently “missing” The Louisiana Music Hall
    Of Fame, currently #2 of 8 listings, including 4 “music museums.”

    Our museum is, currently, online, virtual and available to everyone, worldwide 24/7/365. This is not “your father’s museum.” The LMHOF’s is a virtual museum. We, unlike the mentioned R&R HOF, did not wait for many years to accomplish a “brick & mortar.” We began addressing our mission(s) in order to honor our aging artists within their lifetimes.

    I could go on for quite a while on the inadequacies, inaccuracies combined with the demeaning and misleading general attitude of your blog. I’ll save that for anybody
    interested, anytime.

    My final statement is that you should become part of the solution and not part of a
    continuing problem by not “playing well with other children.”

    Mike Shepherd
    President, Executive Director, The Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame http://www.LMHOF.org

  • King Alexander

    To say that the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame doesn’t exist is rather like saying Amazon.com doesn’t exist, an argument that Barnes & Noble actually tried to make. The difference, however, is that a brick-and-mortar Hall has always been the goal of LMHOF. With support on a microcosm of what Amazon has seen, LMHOF would long ago have been a real place and not just cyberspace. There have been a number of specific plans and efforts to establish a good physical home for LMHOF, albeit not always in New Orleans, which to my thinking would really be the best place. The goal can and will be achieved when the state, local, foundation, and private support coalesces as it should around this entity. When it does, we do have a large number of real artifacts for the people to come see and enjoy, and with a place to put them, more will come. Get behind LMHOF! The 501 C (3) status, historical continuity, and growing roster of deserving inductees are already in place.

    King Alexander, Board Member and Director of Legal Affairs, http://www.LMHOF.org

  • Del Moon

    Jan, as the original founder of the first LMHOF nonprofit in 1982, and as a former entertainment/arts journalist and current board member, I have to say that I’m disappointed that you have chosen to “rant” on this subject without fully informing yourself about the object of your misplaced scorn. Several people, myself included, have reached out and invited you to educate yourself and you have chosen to ignore them all.

    Your piece is, plainly put, ignorant of the facts, and that is indicative of an opinion piece that fails to support its premise. LMHOF does indeed exist and carries out its educational mission on a daily basis as evidenced by over three quarters of a million online visitors that have learned and been entertained from hundreds of hours of collected multimedia and thousands of images that reside in the virtual museum. Do you know how large a building would have to be to display all of the material on LMHOF.org? Bigger than a trumpet sculpture. You have no idea of the number of requests for assistance that have been served and the mountain of thank you messages we have received from all over the world.

    As I found out 33 and a third years ago, people (especially in Louisiana) don’t believe anything until they see it. Mike Shepherd is to be commended that he took full advantage of the Internet to build a resource that provides “tangible” evidence of its validity, relevance and integrity to allow the entity to incubate and pursue a brick and mortar exhibit that also serves to support tourism. A museum is the most expensive and difficult undertaking an independent, nonprofit arts organization can undertake, and we never said we would or could do it without the help of the public, private and corporate sectors stepping up to do their part.

    As important as a physical museum is to the plan (and had you sat down with Mike after one of his many requests you would have learned that the master plan proposes eventual development of at least four regional exhibits and resource centers around the state) LMHOF is not just a museum concept. Our music industry continues to languish and our state’s historical stature as the genesis for not just jazz but many forms of American music has never been fully taught to the world, let alone among its own citizens. The sum is far greater than its very significant parts. Mike is correct when he asserts that Louisiana “wrote the soundtrack for the 20th Century.”

    It pains me to see that parochial, territorial and political attitudes continue to prevent the necessary elements to coalesce not only for LMHOF but for the well being of the entire music community in the state. Your rant is just the latest verse to a broken tune. New Orleans has a vibrant culture, you can’t kill the music as hard as you might try. But we can do so much better in the Crescent City and throughout Louisiana. We need more than just great live music echoing through the streets. I pray for the day, and believe it could happen any day, that people open their eyes and minds as wide as they open their ears and let the music flow.

    Are you listening?

  • EthNOLA

    My principle goal in this lifetime is to create a New Orleans music museum – not only as a showcase of artifacts, but a performance space and grant-disseminating institution as well as an outlet to house and further local “small” cultural endeavors…I’ve had the business plan finished for a decade – based entirely off the layout and structure of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. What I don’t have is the capital or the political network to make it happen. You got a way to make that happen for me, Jan? If so, I’ll give you a brick and mortar tourism attraction that locals can be proud of.

  • Terrance Simien

    Thanks for this Jan and for keeping the discussion going. It is critical that the stakeholders come together with community leaders and have this heart to heart conversation-soon. We have a zydeco rubboard on display @ the Grammy museum in LA, but sadly one cannot see one on display here or better yet, put one on to play, in our own LA. We gotta step up our game.