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NEW ORLEANS, La. — On the eve of the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the historic Saenger Theatre in New Orleans was filled with an emotional crowd. Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis hosted “New Orleans Honors,” an invite-only event recognizing those who aided in New Orleans recovery events after the devastating storm.
The hosts performed multiple times, once along with the city’s mayor Mitch Landrieu. The tribute event was peppered with performances by renowned musicians like Trombone Shorty, Kermit Ruffins, Allen Toussaint, Michael Cerveris, Irma Thomas and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Presenters included James Carville and Mary Matalin, Cokie Roberts, Mad Men‘s Bryan Batt, Archie Manning, Walter Isaacson and Cerveris.
At the beginning of the night, Mayor Landrieu took the stage to thank everyone in attendance. “I want to tell all of you who helped us: Thank you so much. New Orleans is your city and now this is your home,” he said. He talked about the city’s resilience in the face of destruction and grief. “We won’t bow down,” he said of New Orleans, “Because we don’t know how.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu serenaded the crowd at the Saenger as Harry Connick Jr., Branford Marsalis, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and more joined him on stage. All part of #nolahonors event for #Katrina10, thanking those who helped with recovery efforts. #NOLA #music #jazz
A photo posted by lorenaoneil (@lorenaoneil) on
Connick acknowledged the legends that graced the stage that night and he and Marsalis talked about their love for their hometown. “I come to New Orleans every chance that I get,” said Connick, “Every time I’m here I notice more and more visitors on the street.”
Connick and Marsalis brought out four young students from the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, which is part of the Musicians’ Village community the duo conceived following Katrina. They performed “When the Saints Go Marching In” and received a standing ovation.
“They had no idea who we were,” Connick said later on in the night, referring to the children. “They thought we were Justin Timberlake and Kanye West I think. The messed up part is they thought I was Kanye,” he joked.
Multiple videos showed clips of all of the work volunteers and organizations did to assist the city in its time of need. The videos and presentations thanked first responders, corporate and philanthropic organizations, foreign nations, volunteer groups, the sports and entertainment industries, and some government agencies.
Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock were acknowledged in the clips, for the help they’ve provided. Lower Ninth Ward residents talking about how much volunteers have aided in bringing back their homes brought tears and sniffles from the audience. One of the biggest cheers of the night came when a clip was shown of the first Saints game back in the Superdome.
Husband and wife team Carville and Matalin kept people laughing during their presentation honoring government workers. “It does take a village,” said Matalin, a Republican. She turned to her husband, a Democrat, and said, “Don’t consider that an endorsement.”
After the videos, audience members like Nancy Pelosi, Mary Landrieu, Maxine Waters, Steve Gleason and more were called out as the crowd clapped and cheered.
A photo posted by lorenaoneil (@lorenaoneil) on
The location itself was a special one. The Saenger Theatre endured 20 feet of flood water after Katrina, if you include the basement flooding. It was restored and reopened in 2013.
When Cokie Roberts came up to speak, she recalled coming to the Saenger as a child, when it was still racially segregated. “I sat here and African Americans sat up there,” she said, first pointing down and then up to the balcony. “How would we have gotten through Katrina if that had still been true?” she asked
She talked about the “leadership of blacks and whites coming together and making this city great” and said “Thank goodness we were together because we would have never, ever, ever been able to come back otherwise.”
The night culminated with jazz greats Toussaint and Thomas performing “Wish Someone Would Care” to the delight of the crowd. Then Connick and Marsalis performed Connick’s song for New Orleans “City Beneath the Sea,” before bringing out Mayor Landrieu.
Landrieu sang “I’ll Fly Away” as Connick accompanied him on the piano and Kermit Ruffins, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and more came out for a giant, rousing finale.
Here’s a look at a video a fan posted of the mayor’s performance:
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