Star-studded benefit honors NOCCA student _lowres

Photo provided -- Daniel Price.

On Dec. 19, 2003, New Orleans-born artist Daniel Price was shot and killed in San Francisco trying to protect his wife from an attacker. Price was a young, promising artist who’d attended New Orleans Center for Creative Arts during high school, and his family established the Daniel Price Memorial Fund for Aspiring Artists in his honor to recognize and help aspiring artists.

A year later, his family faced the anniversary of his murder as a turning point.

“We had two ways to go — go down the path of mourning, or down the path of celebrating his life,” said his father, Dr. Steve Price. “We set up this Home for the Holidays, which included all of Daniel’s favorite musicians. That started it.”

Home for the Holidays became an annual star-studded fundraiser at the House of Blues, and it returns Monday night. The talent lineup will include Irma Thomas, John Boutte, Rebirth Brass Band, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers, Big Freedia, and the NOCCA All-Stars — Trombone Shorty, Jonathan Baptiste, Big Sam Williams and Joe Dyson. Other guests are also possible. One year, Lenny Kravitz joined Shorty’s set to play drums.

Home for the Holidays and the Daniel Price Memorial Fund have been a boon for NOCCA.

“With the event next Monday, Home for the Holidays will have raised more than $200,000 for the Daniel Price Memorial Fund for Aspiring Artists, all of which is dedicated to NOCCA’s young artists working in the fields of music and visual arts — Daniel’s twin passions,” said Sally Perry, executive director of the NOCCA Institute.

“The fund provides ongoing support to students who need help paying for art supplies and necessary training equipment. It also supports a substantial scholarship to a graduating senior in NOCCA’s Visual Arts department.”

The scholarship helped last year’s winner, Leonard Galmon, attend Yale University.

Steve Price said his son showed signs of artistic talent as a child, writing poems and drawing scenes of New Orleanians and New Orleans’ musicians.

“He’d draw drawings of Kermit (Ruffins) and bring them to him at Vaughan’s,” Steve Price said.

The financial outlook for artists is uncertain, but Steve Price knew his son had to pursue it.

“He was born for it,” Steve Price said. “We encouraged him to go to NOCCA.”

Daniel Price attended Ben Franklin in the morning and NOCCA in the afternoons, and his father credits NOCCA with helping his talent flourish.

“He learned a lot of the fundamentals, but he learned mostly from going to school with musicians and going to school with artists and creative people. It was extremely invigorating to him and inspirational. It made him want to be better,” Steve Price said.

Price’s post-NOCCA education took Daniel to the School of the Visual Arts in New York City, Santa Barbara College, then Southern Methodist University, where his political cartooning showed a side of his art that isn’t obvious in his paintings.

His father says a retrospective of Daniel Price’s work on display at Ben Franklin shows his sense of humor as well, but the paintings that he showed after settling in San Francisco are moodier and more ambiguous.

His first show in San Francisco depicted Mardi Gras Indians and New Orleans icons standing with sometimes surly defiance under forbidding skies. His subject matter is familiar to New Orleanians, but his treatment isn’t simply celebratory. Instead, his figures look like they could lose their fight, but they’re not backing down.

His work attracted the attention of high profile buyers, including Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis, Drew Brees, and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who bought a sculpture he did of Winston Churchill to give to George Clooney, then kept it for their home in Hollywood.

While in San Francisco, Daniel Price was hired by a mural painting company that got the contract to do murals in Harrah’s New Orleans. Price painted the faces of family members into murals, and worked himself and his wife into as well. “He painted himself and his wife dancing in a lot of the scenes in that major ballroom that’s covered by sheets right now,” Steve Price said. “You can lift the sheets and see Daniel’s face.”

Daniel Price loved the Neville Brothers and particularly drummer Willie Green, but Ruffins was his favorite, and Ruffins remembers him front row center every week at Vaughan’s.

After Daniel Price was killed, his death loomed large for Ruffins.

“He had a beautiful soul,” Ruffins said. “It was so strange that the incident happened on the day of my birthday. I’m always thinking about that this time each year.”

Through Daniel, Ruffins and the Price family developed a relationship. When Ruffins returned to the city after Hurricane Katrina, he stayed at the Prices’ house, he said.

Even though Daniel Price lived in San Francisco, his father insists that his home remained New Orleans.

“He got his inspiration from the people of New Orleans and the music of New Orleans,” Steve Price said. “That’s what really made him happy. He was trying to paint New Orleans so that he could come back and do some good here.”