My neighborhood was nearly destroyed by a major tornado eight years ago, but it's hard for me to imagine the unfathomable devastation — the equivalent of many thousands of my neighborhoods — that hit New Orleans and the Delta South. It has now been a year since Katrina roared onshore and, having heard the stories of many of those who are now engaged in the rebuilding and healing, I can't say enough about what the gestures of assistance from organizations and individuals have meant.
The National Association of Recording Arts & Sciences might be best known for the Grammy Awards, but this organization has done so much to educate and assist people in the industry. I've been a proud member of the Memphis chapter of The Recording Academy since the mid-'80s, and I can't tell you how many times I've had to re-educate musicians who have told me they didn't see any reason to pay dues to be part of an organization that seemed primarily about an awards show. I feel it is time to shine a light on a very important wing of the organization, MusiCares (www.grammy.com/musicares).
Established in 1989, MusiCares is a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need, and its services and resources cover a wide range of financial, medical and personal emergencies. In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Recording Academy and MusiCares sought a way to help those directly affected by the disasters and created the MusiCares Hurricane Relief Fund, with an initial contribution of $1 million. This fund was established within three days after Katrina.
Reid Wick, one of many in the local New Orleans music community whose property was wiped out by the storm, relocated to Memphis to help coordinate the Hurricane Relief Fund with Debbie Carroll, who runs MusiCares out of its Nashville-based headquarters. Before Katrina, Wick was co-owner of indie label STR Digital Records and worked at Loyola University's College of Music as the marketing and PR manager, concert series and special events producer, and instructor in the Music Industry Studies program.
“The first few weeks after the storm were like a blur,” Wick remembers. “The phone rang off the hook both in Nashville [where the MusiCares 800 number rings], as well as in Memphis, the chapter office of all Recording Academy members in the affected areas. The online assistance forms were quickly created, and they really opened the floodgates of clients coming to us for aid. Working in this capacity quickly gave me a sense of what this assistance meant to all these people who didn't know what their futures were going to be like. It also amazed all of us that we were helping so many people so fast. We were getting thank-you calls and notes, saying that they got help from MusiCares way before FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] or the insurance companies helped.”
Recording artists Russ Broussard and his wife, Susan Cowsill, who lost two family members in the storm, as well as most of what they owned, are quick to agree about how MusiCares helped. “While you had to stand in lots of lines to find out the help had stopped for the day or until the Red Cross and FEMA figured out how they could help, MusiCares was the first to step in,” states Broussard. “Debbie Carroll in the Nashville office embraced us with such warmth, compassion and strength, we felt that things would turn out okay in a time when we couldn't make simple decisions or hard ones like where do our kids go before we leave on our scheduled tour around the album release.”
So far, the Relief Fund has provided more than $3.2 million in financial assistance for basic needs such as food, clothing, gasoline, transportation and medications, as well as instruments and other supplies to more than 3,000 individuals directly affected by the disasters. As the months have progressed, music people's needs have shifted from immediate and basic to longer-term, deeper ones, including rent deposits, relocation costs and funds for medical care that has been postponed.
As part of its overall relief efforts, MusiCares is also a lead partner of Music Rising, an initiative to raise funds to replace instruments lost by the musicians located in the Gulf Coast. The number of musicians affected by the hurricanes is estimated to be as high as 7,000. MusiCares was joined by Gibson Guitar, the Guitar Center Music Foundation, U2's The Edge and Bob Ezrin in committing to an initial goal of $1 million. Gibson Guitar and Guitar Center collaborated on the design, manufacture and sale of an exclusive Gibson guitar, with all proceeds going directly to the Music Rising program.
Since its launch in November 2005, Music Rising has replaced the instruments of more than 1,700 musicians located in 34 states from California to New York. The pool of applicants has remained steady, and each week new clients emerge who need assistance.
Music people who are still struggling can contact MusiCares' South Region office at 877/626-2748 and request an application. All approved grants are issued directly to a third party. To qualify for assistance, an applicant must be able to document five years of employment in the music industry and/or credited contribution to six commercially released recordings or videos.
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