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'Ambassadorized' 

The Big Easy Awards celebrate the city's musical mission

Dr. John capped a vibrant evening at the Big Easy Awards by declaring all musicians and attendees as "ambassadorized" in the mission to reach the world through New Orleans music.

Dr. John had been named a New Orleans Musical Ambassador along with Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Lillian Boutte; Harry Connick Jr. and Lars Edegran for their efforts to raise funds for and awareness about the city's recovery and to support its musicians.

Hosted by Harry Shearer, the Big Easy Music Awards, held April 24, recognized many individuals and organizations that have helped musicians come home and return to their musical careers, as well as honoring musical achievements over the last year. Big winners included Allen Toussaint, honored for Best Male Performer and album of the year as well as Entertainer of the Year. His frequent trips to the podium to collect awards included thanks to many musicians and even a brief rap about bringing New Orleanians home, accompanied by a beat tapped into the microphone. He also accompanied Best Female Performer and Best Rhythm and Blues winner Irma Thomas for a couple of songs.

Winners spanned all ages and genres. Experience carried the night as musical legends Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and Ellis Marsalis received top honors. Contemporary jazz winner Kidd Jordan added, "It's always good to be honored in your home town." The avant-garde jazz musician wasn't the only winner to push boundaries in musical genres -- particularly ones unique to New Orleans. With its four trombones and a tuba, Bonerama picked up the Best Rock Band honor. Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians took the honors in the new mixed-bag category. Besides jazz and rock, there were awards for funk, Cajun, zydeco, Latin, world and electronic music. The return of the Big Easy program after a Katrina pre-emption last year reflected the health of the music scene.

"Seeing people back in our clubs has been one of the greatest signs of recovery," said Shearer.

Besides words of thanks and encouragement, several poignant messages resonated from the honorees. When he accepted his award for lifetime achievement, Ellis Marsalis spoke of the uniqueness of New Orleans as a city in which so many jazz musicians also work in the schools as jazz educators. Many Big Easy winners and presenters are longtime educators, including Germaine Bazzle, Kidd Jordan and Veronica Downs-Dorsey who accepted the Best Gospel Choir award on behalf of McDonogh 35 Choir.

In addition to the naming of musical ambassadors, many efforts to help New Orleans and its musicians recover were recognized. Jazz Fest founder and Festival Productions president Quint Davis received the Music Heritage Award. Harry Shearer presented special recognition to the Arabi Wrecking Krewe, the American Federation of Musicians, Habitat for Humanity, NARAS MusiCares, the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic, the New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund, the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund and the Tipitina's Foundation.

Also among those honored for their support was celebrity guest and presenter Huey Lewis. He told the crowd: "Having just got back from Europe, not everything America does is popular right now, but one thing everyone agrees on is the popularity of American music. Whether it's country, jazz or rap, you can follow it all back here to New Orleans."

Those sentiments were shared by several speakers. Newly named Musical Ambassador Lars Edegran spoke of donations coming from Europe to support traditional New Orleans jazz. Accepting the Best Album Award for River in Reverse, Toussaint pointed out that Elvis Costello wrote "International Echo" about the way New Orleans music reached him at a young age. And Best Folk Performer winner Spencer Bohren spoke of the link as reciprocal. "New Orleans has given so much music and food and culture to the world and never asked for anything in return," he said. "It's an honor for us [as musicians] to be able to do something for New Orleans."

The focus wasn't solely on the Crescent City. Tab Benoit received a Big Easy for Best Blues Band and also performed with the Voices of the Wetlands project he organized to raise awareness about coastal erosion and its threat to wetlands, communities and the culture that inspired his music. Dr. John, George Porter Jr., Monk Boudreaux, Johnny Vidacovich, Anders Osborne, Johnny Sansone and Benoit jammed on a couple of songs fusing rock, blues, Cajun and the roots music of the region.

On a reverential note, several Big Easy awards were dedicated to musicians lost in the past year. The Hot 8 Brass Band dedicated its Best Brass Band award to drummer Dinneral Shavers. When he accepted Mr. Quintron and Miss Pussycat's Best DJ/electronic music award, Quintron dedicated the award to Keith "Deacon Johnson" Moore. And Bonerama dedicated its Best Rock Band award to Brian O'Neil.

The finale was a fitting brass band jam and second-line parade including members of the Hot 8, Treme, Pin Stripe, Storyville Stompers, Dirty Dozen, Free Agents, Rebirth and Soul Rebels brass bands.

2007 Big Easy Music Awards

Entertainer of the Year
Allen Toussaint

Lifetime Achievement Award
Ellis Marsalis

New Orleans Musical Ambassadors
Wynton Marsalis, Lillian Boutte, Dr. John, Lars Edegran, Harry Connick Jr., Branford Marsalis

Male Performer
Allen Toussaint

Female Performer
Irma Thomas

Best Album of 2006
Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello
The River In Reverse
Verve Forecast

Traditional Jazz
Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Contemporary Jazz
Kidd Jordan

Traditional Brass Band
Treme Brass Band

Contemporary Brass Band
Hot 8 Brass Band

Gospel Choir
McDonogh 35 Choir

Gospel Group/Individual
Zion Harmonizers

Funk
Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk

Rhythm and Blues
Irma Thomas and The Professionals

Rap/Hip Hop
Baby Boy

Blues
Tab Benoit

Rock
Bonerama

Roots Rock
Susan Cowsill

Zydeco
Nathan & The Zydeco Cha Chas

Cajun
Pine Leaf Boys

Country/Folk
Spencer Bohren

Latin
Fredy Omar con su Banda

World Music/Reggae
Panorama Jazz Band

Mixed Bag
Monk Boudreaux

DJ/Electronic
Mr. Quintron and Miss Pussycat

Emerging Group or Artist
Vavavoom

Music Heritage Award
Quint Davis, Festival Productions
Joan Rhodes, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival & Foundation
Frank Glaviano, Shell Oil
Ken Ehrlich
Tom Miserendino, AEG Live

Special Recognition
American Federation of Musicians
Arabi Wrecking Krewe
Habitat for Humanity
Jazz Foundation of America
NARAS MusiCares
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation
New Orleans Musicians' Clinic
New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund
New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund
Tipitina's Foundation


Special Friends of New Orleans Music
Huey Lewis & the News
Harry Shearer
Robert Mugge, Diana Zelman and Starz for New Orleans Music in Exile

WWOZ Guardian of the Groove Award
Billy Delle

2007 Business Recognition Award
Ogden After Hours, Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Photo by Eugenia Uhl and Tracie Morris Schaefer

Host Harry Shearer with Special Friend of New Orleans Music honoree Huey Lewis and Eddie King.

Dr. John received a New Orleans Musical Ambassador Award, performed with the Voice of the Wetlands Allstars and presented Allen Toussaint with the Entertainer of the Year Award.
Big Sam Williams (right) joined the second-line parade finale.
Presenters Troy Andrews and Wanda Rouzan
Music Heritage Award recipient Quint Davis, director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and presenter Amanda Shaw.
Singer Germaine Bazzle presented Ellis Marsalis with the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award.
A performance by the Voice of the Wetlands Allstars included (front row) Dr. John, George Porter Jr., Anders Osborne, (top row) Johnny Vidacovich, Johnny Sansone, Tab Benoit and Monk Boudreaux, who are pictured with Best Roots Rock winner Susan Cowsill and Entertainer of the Year Allen Toussaint.
Presenter Eric Reitman of the House of Blues, Best Female Performer Irma Thomas and Best Blues winner Tab Benoit.
Walter WolfmanWashington was nominated for Best Rhythm and Blues Artist.
New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund director Jordan Hirsch with Best Rap/Hip-Hop winner Baby Boy, who also performed at the Big Easy Awards.
The Treme Brass Band won Best Traditional Brass Band.
Best DJ/Electonica Award winner Mr. Quintron (center) with Joey B. of the Buttons (left) and D. Lefty Parker, who performs with MC Trachiotomy.
The Zion Harmonizers won Best Gospel Group
Presenters Fred Goodrich (left) and Dwayne Brashears with WWOZ Guardian of the Groove Award winner Billy Delle (center).
Ivan (left) and Ian Neville of Best Funk Band Dumpstaphunk with Gambit Weekly publisher Margo DuBos and editor Clancy DuBos.
Best Roots Rock winner Susan Cowsill (front center) with Best Rock Band Bonerama.
Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue was nominated for Best Country/Folk Band and performed at the Big Easy Awards.
Irma Thomas won Best Female Performer, Best Rhythm & Blues Act and sang two songs at the Big Easy Music Awards.
Special recognition award winners (left to right) Suzanne Mobley of Habitat for Humanity, Sheik Richardson and Craig Klein of Arabi Wrecking Krewe, American Federation of Musicians local chapter president Deacon John Moore, Ben Jaffe of Preservation Hall and the New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund, Catherine Lasperches, a nurse for the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, Jeff Beninato of the New Orleans Musicians Relief Organization and Mary von Kurnatowski of the Tipitina's Foundation
Best Emerging Group Vavavoom
Ben Jaffe (left) accepted the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's award for Best Traditional Jazz Band and Kidd Jordan won Best Contemporary Jazz Performer.
American Idol star George Huff was nominated for Best Gospel Singer and performed at the Big Easy Awards.
The Pine Leaf Boys won Best Cajun Band.
The Hot 8 Brass Band won Best Contemporary Brass Band.
The Panorama Jazz Band won Best World Music.
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