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
Entertainer of the Year
Lifetime Achievement in Music
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
Greater St. Stephen's Choir
Bishop Lester Love
Little Freddie King
Rhythm and Blues
Tom McDermott & Evan Christopher
Traditional Brass Band
Treme Brass Band
Contemporary Brass Band
Happy Talk Band
Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience
Pine Leaf Boys
Michael Skinkus and Moyuba
Emerging Group or Artist
Best Album of 2007
Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino