Each year, on New Year’s Day hundreds of thousands of people line the streets of Pasedena, California to catch a glimpse of the famous flower-covered floats of the Rose Parade. And the soundtrack to go along with this floral fete? Marching bands. This year in addition to the standard high school and college bands, there will be a very special group representing New Orleans: The Roots of Music.
Perhaps you’ve heard them during Mardi Gras, or seen them perform in the French Quarter. The Roots of Music is a marching band like no other. The band is comprised of disadvantaged youth between the ages of 9 and 14 years old. Most join with no musical experience at all. They may be young, but they’re good. So good that they were hand-picked to participate in the 2013 Rose Parade. It’s a big opportunity: The parade is viewed by more than 40 million people and aired in over 200 countries. “To be able to represent the city, its population, its music, is huge for us,” says Elexa Ruth, program director for the Roots of Music. “We will be showcasing New Orleans–style music, in addition to the typical standards.”
The Roots of Music was founded in 2007 as a way to keep kids off the street and fill a void. After Katrina there were no free music programs for New Orleans youth, so Alison Reinhardt and Derrick Tabb created one. What started as a small idea turned into a life-changing program. Now with 120 members, the Roots of Music is the only city-wide marching band in New Orleans. Kids are bussed in from all more than 45 schools in Orleans Parish and have lessons five days a week, four hours a day. They’re taught by world-class musicians and also receive academic tutoring, as well as a nutritious meal. All of this, including transportation, is provided for free by the Roots of Music.
Participating in the Rose Parade is an incredible opportunity for these young musicians. “Many of these kids have never left New Orleans. If they have, it was for Katrina and it was a terrible experience,” explains Ruth. She believes that being around professional marching bands will inspire them to continue to play music. “If you can’t see what’s out there, you’ll never imagine that you can be it,” says Ruth. “We hope this will help them strive to become better musicians. They’ll see that this is a path they can take in life.”
The Roots of Music needs to raise $365,000 in order to send its band to Pasedena. It’s currently looking for individual donations as well as corporate sponsorships to meet its goal. To contribute, or to learn more about the program, visit therootsofmusic.com or contact Elexa Ruth at (504) 460-2611.