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The Whole Gritty City – A New Orleans Marching Band Film

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(InthekNOwla) -- NEW ORLEANS | "Once that band gives you that down beat...just for that brief two or three minutes you forget every problem you had. You have no cares in the world...Yeah it must be nice to live like that with no cares in the world." - Wilbert Rawlins, Jr., Band Director at O. Perry Walker High School.

St. Aug, 35, Easton, Kennedy, John Mac, Carver, Cohen, Rabouin, Booker T. If you from New Orleans, there's no need for an explanation of these words/names. But since not everybody is from New Orleans, let us give you some New Orleans schooling before we proceed.

All those names you see are/were some of New Orleans’ most well-known high schools (some didn’t reopen after Hurricane Katrina). And since we live in a such a musical city, these schools also have/had some of the best marching bands…ever.

See, you gotta understand something about New Orleans high schools…everybody wants to be in the band cuz if you in the band, you somebody. Remember those Friday nights at Tad Gormley or Pan-Am stadium for the jamboree football games between Kennedy and St. Aug and how you felt when you heard that first beat of the drum or trumpet as the band was preparing to take the field for half time? Or when you see that unmistakable uniform and drum majors as they march down St. Charles Avenue in the Mardi Gras parades? Gives you goose bumps, don’t it?

Well, if you answered yes, then you’ll definitely want to see The Whole Gritty City, “a documentary feature film that plunges viewers into the world of New Orleans high school marching bands.” The Whole Gritty City tells the story of three marching bands and their passionate directors as they traverse “the struggles, tragedies, and triumphs of their young musicians with plenty of powerful and passionate music along the way.”

Director Richard Barber and Co-Director Andre Lambertson were not in a marching band and they didn’t even go to a New Orleans high school. In fact, they’re not even from here, but they have taken the time and effort to get to know our culture in and out in order to tell the story correctly. Richard explained, “I first became aware of the significance of the role of the marching bands in New Orleans while working on 48 Hours for CBS News. Dinerral Shavers, a member of the Hot 8 Brass Band and band teacher, had been murdered and his murder, coupled with other violent crimes in the same week, sparked a march on City Hall. That drew my attention to the extremes, to the destructive and positive forces happening in the city.”

“I was seeing these interviews with the kids in the Rabouin Marching Band that Mr. Shavers had started up and I was struck by the really candid way they talked about their lives and how grateful they were to Mr. Shavers for doing this amazing thing for them. So, I started to get a sense of what these band directors and bands meant not only to the musical culture in New Orleans, but rather how they serve as a lifeline for these kids. In essence, these band directors are heroes. So I thought that somebody really needed to make a film about this. I started at Rabouin High School which led me to Wilbert Rawlins, Jr. at O.Perry Walker and Derrick Tabb who was just starting the Roots of Music. So we decided to focus on these three bands and follow those band directors and a few kids in the band.”

The Whole Gritty City encompasses a 3-year stretch starting in October 2007 and ending in May 2010. The title, which is actually a misreading, came from the drum major at Rabouin. Richard said, “At one point, the drum major was giving a shout out to his friends and he looked at a group of friends and said, ‘And the whole Gritty City.’ At first, I thought he was giving a shout out to the whole city, but actually, that was the name of his clique; they were called the Gritty City. The attitude that the name was derived from encompasses both those destructive and positive forces that are in play with these kids in New Orleans from their point of view.”

One of the biggest challenges that Richard had in making the documentary was winning the trust of the New Orleans people. “One of the first challenges that I was aware of was that this was really going to take some time and patience. I didn’t want to just go down there and say, ‘This is the story. These are the characters. I’ve got it all figured out!,’ You can’t come into New Orleans as an outsider and have it all figured out. You really need to pay attention and see where things lead you. You get deeper into it, you go back again and again, you meet more people and things start coming together slow and steady. It took a while to figure out what the focus was gonna be and how the story was gonna unfold as well as getting to know people and gain their trust. So, I am very happy the way everything turned out.”

The Whole Gritty City will hopefully premiere at a festival this winter or early 2012 and of course including a New Orleans premiere as well. Besides the theatrical release, Richard expects that the film will also be in the television market next year.

If you would like to donate to The Whole Gritty City, you can do so at their Kickstarter page, which will allow you to donate until Monday, April 11, 2011. And to learn more information about The Whole Gritty City, please visit

Mr. Barber, New Orleans can’t thank you enough for your time and patience with her. There are so many times when people come to the city, do what they got to do, get the hell out ASAP, and make their money off of the city elsewhere. But, we truly feel you that really understand us and our culture and you’re welcome back to this Gritty City anytime you like.

THE WHOLE GRITTY CITY - 3-minute Trailer from Richard Barber on Vimeo.

Last modified on Friday, 08 April 2011
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