Everybody knows that musicians make New Orleans what it is. But our local musicians have a long history of careers cut short by preventable health problems. Many of New Orleans’ best, from Buddy Bolden to James Booker, became unable to play or died far too young.
Long nights, uncertain pay, and a cash-based economy often means that you can’t get access to health care. When it affects a critical section of the city’s economy, it’s a crisis -- for everyone.
In the 1990s, somebody decided it was high time to do something. Dr. Jack McConnell and Sibyl Morial hatched an idea, and brought in Johan Bultman of the Jazz & Heritage Foundation. On May 1, 1998, the doors opened for the New Orleans Musicians Clinic.
This unique organization was founded with a simple mission -- keep New Orleans musicians ALIVE, which then keeps the city’s cultural economy alive. It was then, and still is, the only comprehensive occupational medical clinic for musicians, performing artists, and cultural workers in the United States. The clinic’s team fosters a culture of self-care, and provides primary care, mental health, social services, and advocacy regardless of the patient's ability to pay.
The top chronic conditions treated at the Clinic include cardiac health, diabetes, and mental health -- all of which require continuing comprehensive medical care and social services, not just a visit to the emergency room. The clinic has served everyone from street musicians and brass band players to some of the most recognizable names in New Orleans music. Plus Mardi Gras Indians, burlesque dancers, Baby Dolls, Social Aid & Pleasure Club paraders, and more.
The clinic provides case management, cancer screenings, smoke-free advocacy, drug and alcohol detox, mental health services, dental care, and some unique services tailored to the musicians and culture bearers of our city, including foot care for parading musicians; a program to reduce noise-induced hearing disorders; care for the burlesque and drag dancers; custom ear plugs molded for individual musicians; having flu shots administered on Frenchmen St, where musicians can just drop in before a gig; even a special yoga program for brass bands.
The New Orleans Musicians Clinic’s culturally sensitive approach works within the community to ensure that those who reach out get the care they need, and has served many thousands of musicians since it opened. And this is all because 20 years ago, somebody decided to do something so the music and culture stays alive, for the sake of all of us, here in New Orleans.
Visit their website at neworleansmusiciansclinic.org.
This feature's narrator is Reggie Scanlan, bassist for The Radiators and New Orleans Suspects. Scanlan was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and has been a patient and champion of the New Orleans Musicians Clinic for years. For more than 40 years, he has exported New Orleans music to the world. He backed such local legends as Professor Longhair, James Booker, Earl King, Snooks Eaglin, and Eddie Bo. Special thanks to Reggie for sharing part of his story for this Tricentennial Music Moment.
Reggie Scanlan onstage at Jazz Fest Fest 2016. Photo by Black Mold.
This WWOZ New Orleans Tricentennial Moment was made possible with support from these sponsors: