Ellis Marsalis Music Center crowns Musicians' Village

By Bill Capo
Eyewitness News
August 25, 2011

NEW ORLEANS — There was a standing room only crowd, with actress Renee Zellweger in the audience, for the dedication of the new Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, the centerpiece of Habitat for Humanity’s Musicians Village project in the Ninth Ward.

Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis played key roles in developing the Musicians Village, and the center, but as performers, they called this hall acoustically perfect.

“You’re in the middle of the Upper 9th Ward,” said Connick.  “You’ve got the highest level of state-of-the-art technical facility here. it is like all these worlds coming together.”

“You could bring a string quartet in here, and they could play without one shred of amplification, and everybody in here could hear every note in here regardless of the volume,” raved Marsalis.

“You could also bring Dr. John in here with his full band, and people would love every minute of it.”
The main performance hall has state-of-the-art recording equipment that is even a boost for Hollywood South.

“We have a facility like that with big screen projection capabilities, and these incredible acoustics, they can actually record the score of an entire movie here,” said Jim Pate of Habitat For Humanity.

But it is also a community center, with meeting rooms, computer labs, and classrooms to train future music stars.

“We’ve got a couple of schools that we’ve partnered with in the Upper 9th Ward, with a lot of children that are interested in coming,” said Center Executive Director Michele Jean-Pierre.

Opening the Ellis Marsalis Center is the culmination of the Habitat for Humanity Musicians’ Village project that started in March 2006, just seven months after Katrina. At that time, this was an empty lot, now it’s a community.

They built 72 homes and ten duplexes here, and Habitat work is continuing at sites throughout the city.

“We’ve built 430 post Katrina, 440, and we’ve got about, we think we’re going to start, try to get along pretty steadily 30-40, maybe 40-50 a year,” said Pate.

“We’re a small part, you know, but we’re just so beyond belief happy, man, it really is,” said Connick.  “We can’t believe it’s here.”

To view the video on this story, please visit the WWLTV Eyewitness News website!