History student's project explores New Orleans music after Katrina

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AIKEN --- After Hurricane Katrina, many jazz musicians left New Orleans and haven't been back since.

Heather Davis receives the 2008 Outstanding Student of History Award from USC Aiken Chancellor Tom Hallman (left) and history professor Val Lumans.  Special
Special
Heather Davis receives the 2008 Outstanding Student of History Award from USC Aiken Chancellor Tom Hallman (left) and history professor Val Lumans.

Their plight drew the attention of Heather Davis, a senior history major at the University of South Carolina Aiken. She wanted to archive the stories of New Orleans musicians and how the hurricane changed not only the physical aspects of the city but also the sounds that made the area unique.

After winning the Magellan Scholarship from the University of South Carolina last year, Ms. Davis was able to complete research from the field on her documentary project, Can't Wash Us Away.

"This culture -- you can't wash it away," she said. "Many of the reflections after the storm showed people turning to older songs that now have new meaning."

In her research, she found that many musicians didn't leave the city because their elders had survived similar events. They thought they would be OK.

Although many eventually left, instruments also were lost to flooding, depriving others of their livelihood.

There still are impromptu street performances, the vibe just isn't the same, the musicians in Ms. Davis' documentary said.

"Some feel that the authentic culture is lost in trying to attract new people to New Orleans," Ms. Davis said. "But people remember how wonderful their culture is and want to keep that intact."

When she began the research, Ms. Davis expected to work from Aiken.

After receiving the grant, she traveled to Louisiana and was able to pull together resources to complete a mini-documentary.

"This is great for me to be able to present it before I go to Columbia," she said. "It was pretty time consuming and difficult to pick out snippets from things they said.

"But this was a good experience just for speaking in front of people. You've spent so much time on a project like this that you can't not share it with others."

Ms. Davis will present her research later this month at USC.

Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or julia.sellers@augustachronicle.com.

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