King of the Queen
Bill Taylor resurrected music in the most musical of cities, New Orleans, post flood. Now he’s resurrecting Wilmington’s most famous theater—and starting something much bigger.
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“There were tanks on the street and signs on the doors signifying what organization had visited, the date they came and the number of casualties found,” he says. “The first sign of hope I saw was in the eyes of the people. They’re dedicated. They’re resilient. And they’re survivors.”
The Tipitina Foundation, which Taylor had begun in 1997 to support the city’s music community, was tapped for Katrina aid. Taylor made sure there were two hot meals a day for musicians and their families, and he found temporary housing for others. He got them gigs and instruments. He raised funds through donations and benefit concerts.
Most recipients were mere working musicians. Some were famous, like Taylor’s friend Fats Domino. Domino sprang into action, recording “Alive and Kickin’,” then donating proceeds from its sale to the Tiptinas Foundation.
Taylor followed Domino’s lead, becoming executive producer of “Goin’ Home,” a 30-track disc of Domino classics remade by New Orleans heroes from Allen Toussaint to Dr. John, as well as artists such as Tom Petty, Elton John, Randy Newman and Norah Jones. Proceeds helped restore Domino’s publishing house, establish a community center and music office co-op in the Lower Ninth Ward, and ensure that future New Orleans musicians would receive instruments and musical education. To date, the foundation has raised more than $1.5 million in post-Katrina aid and has donated more than $3 million in instruments to New Orleans’ public schools.
From August 24 through September 1 of 2008, Taylor took the New Orleans All Star Jam-baylaya, a collection of 40 musicians, on a tour to raise awareness and rebuild the Gulf Coast. The tour wound from the Democratic National Convention in Denver to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis and places in between.
“Bill put all of that together because he realized that, together, we musicians have a bigger voice speaking as a group rather than individually,” says Benoit, who performed with his band, Voice of the Wetlands, on the tour. “Bill is one of those people you go to because he knows the culture of New Orleans, and he knows that our culture is what keeps us together.”
To live in a city being reborn is to witness change brick by one brick. The temper of New Orleans rose. The storms continued. Taylor was evacuated from his apartment three times. He needed a break.
About that time, Buccini/Pollin Group bought the old Queen Theatre to rebuild as the centerpiece of its renovations on Market Street. Built in 1915, the Queen was a jewel, drawing the greatest performers to its stage and films to its screen. Yet when suburban flight eviscerated downtown Wilmington in the 1950s, the theater closed. For 50 years, the building has not been used.
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