Local musicians are known for lending their talents to worthy causes. But for the Blind Boys of Alabama, this weekend's benefit for Educare New Orleans is personal.
Shortly before their performance this year at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Blind Boys visited Educare, a preschool program for low-income families in Gentilly. The gospel harmony group talked to the children and their families, then gave an impromptu performance.
The official Summer Gospel and Soul Celebration concert is Sunday at the Orpheum Theatr.
The benefit’s stellar lineup also features New Orleans singers Irma Thomas, Cyril Neville and Mem Shannon, pianist Tom Worrell, bassist Cornell Williams and drummer and musical director Terence Higgins.
“We’re excited to have these great performers in concert to benefit the 160-plus kids and families who Educare serves every day,” said Gerard Barousse, Jr., chairman of Educare New Orleans. “Proceeds from this great event will go directly to the classroom.”
Operated and managed by Kingsley House, Educare New Orleans is open year-round, serving 168 children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old. One of the 24 Educare Leaning Network programs in the United States, Educare New Orleans opened in 2013. It’s the only Educare facility in the Deep South.
The facility’s partners include the Tulane School of Public Health, which evaluates academic and social progress for Educare.
“We’re meticulous in gathering outcome data for the students,” said Lisa McCaffety-Scott, an Educare fundraiser and benefit organizer. “Tulane collects that information and shares it with the other Educares throughout the country.”
Through its Gulf Coast Teacher Training Academy, Educare also offers free training to Louisiana’s early childhood educators.
The Summer Gospel and Soul Celebration starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Orpheum. A VIP reception with music by Seth Walker begins at 6 p.m.
Musical director Higgins’ credits include Ani DiFranco, many classic New Orleans artists and the Don Was-led all-star tribute concerts to the Rolling Stones, the Band and Little Feat. He’s more than qualified for the gig.
“I’ve helped to organize all-star bands and jams pretty much all through my entire career,” Higgins said.
Amberley Stokes, an Educare supporter and benefit concert organizer whose day job is booking and promotion for Rosa’s Lounge, a legendary blues club in Chicago, invited Higgins to assemble the concert’s house band and help enlist the event’s marquee names.
“We came up with a cool lineup,” Higgins said. “Irma Thomas, Cyril Neville and Mem Shannon. We landed the Blind Boys, which is a great thing. It’s going to be a great event.”
Like the Blind Boys of Alabama, Higgins, Cyril Neville and wife Gaynell have all made personal visits to Educare New Orleans.
The five-time Grammy-winning Blind Boys of Alabama visited Educare on May 3. “They sang a cappella for us,” McCaffety-Scott said. “It was extremely moving. So, they’re not just coming to play a concert. They remember us.”
Benefit concert co-organizer Stokes gave Higgins his first look at Educare New Orleans.
“Terence is committed to the community and he’s a father,” McCaffety-Scott said. “Any parent gets it. Terence got it immediately. When people walk through Educare, they understand the model and the holistic approach to childhood development.”
“I’m behind the cause,” Higgins said. “I’m totally impressed with the facility. Early childhood development is really important. And nowadays it’s so expensive to get the right education for these kids early on. I have a 5-year-old, so I’m dealing with that myself. Educare is for lower-income families and it really helps the kids.”
Higgins also sees his participation in the concert as a way to express his appreciation to the New Orleans community and music scene that formed him.
“As musicians, we really want to give back to our community, because the community gave us so much throughout our careers,” Higgins said. “And we automatically want to get behind a kid. Cyril (Neville) had the same response that I had.”
In 2103, the Bayou District Foundation invited the Educare Learning Network to participate in the revitalization of the former St. Bernard Housing Development, Higgins said.
“They’ve redeveloped the whole area with the housing and put Educare right in the middle of it,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see that this is really happening in our community. That really got me excited about lending my name and talent to a good cause.”
“This is not your typical concert,” McCaffety-Scott said. “The performers have a lot of attachment to the school. And there are a lot of talented artists and even celebrities among the Educare parents and families.”
‘Summer Gospel and Soul Celebration’
With the Blind Boys of Alabama, Irma Thomas, Cyril Neville, Terence Higgins, Tom Worrell and Cornell Williams
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Orpheum Theatre, 129 Roosevelt Way
INFO: Orpheumnola.com, VIP tickets and sponsorships (512) 750-3650