As Jim Pate, the executive director of New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, took center stage to accept an award, he articulated a serious dilemma his city had faced. New Orleans’s musical heritage, an ineffable, irreplaceable treasure he described as the city’s soul, resided in the hands of a few people — the long-time musicians who had lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In a city besieged with so many problems following the storm, a group of contemporary musicians and friends devised a plan: Providing safe, affordable housing would allow valued New Orleans musicians to stay.
On the evening of Tuesday, May 11, 2010, Pate stood in the spotlight before a large crowd on a dais in the great hall of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The honor award he accepted, bestowed on the founders of New Orleans Habitat Musicians’ Village (a group that includes Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr., and Ann Marie Wilkins, as well as Pate), came from the National Building Museum.