The Roots of Music

  • Arts
  • Inequality
  • Kids and learning

Providing year-round free music education, academic tutoring, and mentorship for youths in greater New Orleans.

About The Roots of Music

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The Roots of Music provides free year-round music education, academic tutoring, and mentorship for youths ages 9-14 in Greater New Orleans. Founded shortly after Hurricane Katrina to address the challenges facing the city’s youth and the cessation of music education in most of New Orleans’ public middle schools, the program offers children an escape and alternative to the dangerous after-school street life of New Orleans. Low-income students, who begin with little or no musical experience, work through the Roots program towards performing in the city’s largest middle school marching band, the Roots of Music Marching Crusaders.

  • Instrument esp. brass, percussion, woodwinds (used instruments OK, like from your local school marching band when they buy new ones)
  • Other music supplies (e.g. music stands)
  • School or instructional supplies
  • Tutoring volunteers
  • Fundraising networking

The Roots marching band played in 5 of the top Mardi Gras parades in 2015, and are playing at the French Quarter Fest and Jazzfest in New Orleans. The band has been featured multiple times on national television, including CNN, NBC, and CBS; and has been written up multiple times in the national and local press. In January, 2013, Roots was the first middle-school band in history to march in the Rose Bowl parade. In February, 2013, Roots was prominently featured in a special segment on national television coverage of the Super Bowl. And in February, 2014, Roots was the subject of a special two-hour documentary broadcast of “48 Hours” on CBS. Roots marches in the top Mardi Gras parades, plays at New Orleans Jazzfest, marched in the Saints’ Super Bowl victory parade, and is featured at the annual Essence Fest. Roots has been given an annual fundraiser by the writers and cast of HBO’s “Treme,” and has been worked into the storyline of the show, with a number of the children appearing as themselves.

Roots has been tremendously successful artistically, academically, and socially: the children’s grades have gone up by a full grade level, and none of them has been involved in any form of disciplinary action since joining the program. There are currently 165 students in the program, which is housed in the heart of the French Quarter, in the historic Cabildo in Jackson Square, and has a waiting list of over 600, all of whom come to Roots by word of mouth. Some of New Orleans’ top band directors provide the full musical education and extensive academic tutoring is staffed by area college students. The program is cost-free to the students, including instruments, transportation, and a daily hot meal.

Founder Derrick Tabb was born and raised in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, generally considered to be the birthplace of American jazz music, possibly the oldest African American neighborhood in America. The snare drummer with the Grammy Award-winning Rebirth Brass Band, Derrick was a Top Ten CNN Hero in 2009, and winner of a Blue Cross Blue Shield Angel Award for outstanding volunteer services on behalf of Louisiana’s Children. Roots’ board and prominent supporters include David Simon, Tim Robbins, Ani DiFranco, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, and Wendell Pierce.

Location: New Orleans

Classmate Sponsor: Rick Weil,


Classmate Rick Weil, ’73, PhD ’81 (, 225-578-1140 LSU office) helped start Roots and has served as board secretary. Inspired by Roots, Rick is conducting sociological research on grass-roots mentoring in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and the West Side of Chicago. Watch him interview Derrick Tabb below.