The record flooding that covered much of the Baton Rouge region affected several of the city’s internationally known blues musicians.
Henry Gray, 91, a 1999 Grammy-nominee and 2006 National Heritage Fellowship Award honoree, was rescued by boat from his home off North Foster Drive. Five feet of water entered Gray’s house.
Gray, a singer-pianist who worked with Howlin’ Wolf and other Chicago blues stars, is staying at the home of his great-grandson, Deandre Tate.
“He lost everything he had in there,” Tate said. “Everything is gone.”
Everything includes the Grammy nominee medallion Gray received for the 1998 album “A Tribute to Howlin’ Wolf.” A looter stole the safe in which Gray had stored the medallion as well as his birth certificate and other important papers.
“My great-grandfather, he’s a very strong, optimistic man,” Tate said. “He looks at the glass as half-full. But I did see him hold back some tears. It made me really, really sad. But we’re faith-based people. We believe God will restore everything. And my great-grandfather, he’s not going to go without anything as long as I can help it.”
Phoenix-based blues musician Bob Corritore, one of the hundreds of musicians Gray has worked with through the decades, created a GoFundMe web page to raise money for the pianist. As of Wednesday afternoon, the campaign had raised more than $12,000. Donations may be made at gofundme.com/2k3359w.
The Music Maker Relief Foundation also has sent an emergency check to Gray. The North Carolina-based nonprofit provides financial support to American roots music artists. The foundation also will add Gray to its Sustenance Program, which administers monthly grants to musicians.
“We will be identifying other artists who are affected,” said Jessica Row, Music Maker’s advancement coordinator.
Singer-guitarist Larry Garner considers himself blessed to have only gotten 8 inches of water in his North Baton Rouge home. Members of the Neal family of musicians, including siblings Kenny, Darnell and Darlene Neal, experienced far worse, Garner said. Water reached to singer Darlene Neal’s rooftop, he said.
Garner was busy Wednesday cutting carpet and cleaning walls and baseboards in his home.
“Nobody even considered a flood happening out here,” he said. “We don’t even have flood insurance. A lot of people are caught up in the same situation.”
After Garner does work on his own house, he plans to help clean his mother’s and brother’s homes, both of which are within walking distance of his house.
The flood certainly will inspire Garner to write a song.
“Oh, hell yeah, man,” he said. “And one of the lines in there will be, ‘It ain’t nobody in this neighborhood never, ever been flooded before.’ But I wasn’t thinking songs when I was walking around in the water with all the snakes and frogs and ants and spiders. Everybody was trying to survive. Everybody was looking for high ground.”
Clarke Gernon, president of the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation, presenter of the Baton Rouge Blues Festival, said the foundation is seeking ways to help local blues artists. Benefit shows for affected musicians are likely in the near future.