The 20th annual Big Easy Music Awards, held Monday, April 21, at Harrah's Casino theater, recognized achievement in music by Louisiana artists, and the message from many honorees was that there's no place like home. "I went to New York to try to find myself," said Donald Harrison Jr., who was named 2008 Ambassador of Music. "I played with a lot of cats. But I really found myself when I came home." He went on to describe what it was like growing up in a musical New Orleans family. "There was Indian practice at my house. When I was young, I played drums on my crib. When that beat hits you, your feet got to move and heart's got to groove." Harrison and an all-star lineup of Big Sam Williams, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Stanton Moore, John Cleary, Matt Perrine and Shamarr Allen later played the Mardi Gras Indian anthem "Two Pocky Way."

Inspiring both in accepting awards and leading his band, Terence Blanchard was honored as Entertainer of the Year (See "Entrenched Memories," p. 19), won Best Contemporary Jazz Artist, played a piece from his Grammy-winning album A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina) and spoke about what went into creating the work. The compositions for large jazz ensemble developed out of pieces he created for the score of Spike Lee's documentary When the Levees Broke. In one segment, the film follows Blanchard and his mother as they return to her flooded home for the first time after the levee failures. Blanchard hopes the wrenching scene helps keep New Orleans on many people's minds.

"The thing I tell people is that if you cry for my mom, multiply that by 200,000," Blanchard said. He recounted his efforts to come to terms with the wreckage of his mother's home. "I kept thinking, 'There has to be something better that will come out of this.' It gives me solace that something better will come out of this. It's a testament to the citizens of New Orleans for having the strength to rebuild our city."

The legacy of the city's music scene was on display throughout the evening. R&B pianist Eddie Bo received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Al "Carnival Time" Johnson was recognized with a Music Heritage Award. WWOZ Guardians of the Groove awards were given to Clinton Scott, one of the station's original DJs, and Patti and David Averbuck. The Goin' Home tribute to Fats Domino released by the Tiptina's Foundation and Vanguard Records was named Best Album of 2007.

Winners in other categories included Little Freddie King for Best Blues, Tom McDermott and Evan Christopher for Best Traditional Jazz, Galactic for Best Funk Band and trumpet player Shamarr Allen for Best Emerging Artist. The Best Male Performer was Troy Andrews, and Irma Thomas won Best Female Performer.

Besides Harrison and Blanchard's performances, the evening opened with music by Best World Music winner Michael Skinkus and Moyuba, OTRA and Casa Samba. Best Country Music nominee The Figs, the New Orleans Bingo! Show and Best Zydeco Band Terrance Simien and Zydeco Experience performed, and rapper Cupid finished the evening by leading the audience in his namesake Cupid Shuffle.

The awards are sponsored by Gambit Weekly, Harrah's New Orleans Casino & Hotel, Abita Beer, WWOZ 90.7 FM, the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism and Coleman E. Adler & Sons. Proceeds benefit the Foundation for Entertainment Development and Education.

2008 Big Easy Music Awards

Honorary Music Chairman

Don Marshall

Entertainer of the Year

Terence Blanchard

Lifetime Achievement in Music

Eddie Bo

Ambassador of Music

Donald Harrison Jr.

Music Heritage Award

Al "Carnival Time" Johnson

Business Recognition Award

Downtown Development District and Young Leadership Council

WWOZ Guardian of the Groove Award

Clinton Scott, Patti Averbuck and David Averbuck

2008 Big Easy Music Award Winners

Gospel Choir

Greater St. Stephen's Choir

Gospel Group/Individual

Bishop Lester Love


Little Freddie King

Rhythm and Blues

Jon Cleary


Lil Wayne

Traditional Jazz

Tom McDermott & Evan Christopher

Contemporary Jazz

Terence Blanchard

Traditional Brass Band

Treme Brass Band

Contemporary Brass Band

Soul Rebels

Roots Rock

Happy Talk Band


Rotary Downs




Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience


Pine Leaf Boys


Country Fried



World Music/Reggae

Michael Skinkus and Moyuba

Mixed Bag




Male Performer

Troy Andrews

Female Performer

Irma Thomas

Emerging Group or Artist

Shamarr Allen

Best Album of 2007

Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino