When I was 15, my sister, cousin and I went on a blind date to a high school dance. There, in the small California town of Millville (just outside of Redding), I experienced Fats Domino. He played one riveting song after another, "Blueberry Hill," "Blue Monday," and "When the Saints Go Marching In". It was the summer of 1958. We danced so close to the piano, I could reach out and touch him, but I didn't. I just danced and danced and loved every minute, never realizing that this great musician was a human being instead of some marvelous god of music.
Fats Domino lives in New Orleans. At 79, he played a benefit concert recently here, all those greats from his long career. I wish I could have been there to cheer him on and to say how much I've loved his gravelly voice, his heavy-beat stride piano playing, his songs, and his joyous music. For Fats Domino was skittish about coming on stage. Apparently he suffers greatly from stage fright, but this was a fund-raiser for rebuilding New Orleans, so he went on.
A few weeks ago, our friend the Guv of WWOZ fame took us through the Lower 9th Ward here in New Orleans. Wow! Fat's Domino's house. But you can still see the four-foot high water line mark on his garage. Early reports had him dead, along with 1,000 others. Today, a sign on Fats' fence says "Tipitina's Foundation proudly helping Fats Domino Rebuild his neighborhood." But the Tipitina Foundation does more. It's raised $1.5 million for musical instruments for school bands and has been at the heart of efforts to support the music community here in New Orleans.
Still so much work remains to rebuild this beautiful city. The French Quarter, downtown, the Garden District, the neighborhoods of the privileged: all these are coming back. Yesterday we walked all along the levee, Jackson Square, and had cafe au lait with powdered-sugar-laden beignets at Cafe du Monde with our friends from Oregon. The sun was out, making another memorable day for tourists and residents alike.
But here's a picture I took of the house directly across the street from Fats Domino's house.
We can drive through, we can volunteer, but we don't really know the back story of what happened here during Katrina. But we can see what remains to be done and come to New Orleans to be a part of the rebuilding. John Edwards talked about the need to put in a hand, ending his campaign here by working on housing. Put in a hand.