The devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year in the state of Louisiana is still a source of pain and anxiety for hundreds-of-thousands of people. The two hurricanes struck less than a month apart, driving people from their homes and destroying their way of life. But a new song being played on the state's airwaves is helping to lift spirits.
When more than 2,000 graduating students and their families came to the New Orleans Arena Saturday, May 13, for Tulane University's commencement ceremony, they heard a song performed live, while video images of Louisiana appeared on giant screens all around them.
The song, "Our Home, Louisiana," drew an emotional reaction from students who fled Katrina last August, and then came back to New Orleans in January to complete their final semester at Tulane. Even though many of the students are not originally from here, most say they now have a strong bond with this city and this state.
School of Law graduate Pia Das, who was born and raised in Houston, says she has grown to love New Orleans, and that the song touched her deeply.
"I cried through all of it. It was beautiful," she said. " I mean, it was just so beautiful, and the images that went with it were very touching, and it was very heartfelt."
That sort of reaction is music to the ears of the man who wrote and performed the song, New Orleans native and songwriter Jep Epstein. He wrote the song for the health insurance company, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana, after company representatives tracked him down in the northeastern part of the state, where he and his family took up temporary residence following Katrina.
"I got a call from a guy named John Maginnis at Blue Cross, and he wanted to have some sort of campaign to instill pride in Louisiana and make people want to come home, and to not focus on the negative so much, to recognize it, but to bring people back to Louisiana," he explained. "He had the line, 'this is our home, Louisiana.' And from there, basically that night, I wrote the song."
Jep Epstein has been writing and playing music in New Orleans for more than a decade, penning numerous jingles for advertising campaigns and promotions. But he says none of his other compositions ever had the impact this one has had.
Epstein says the commission to write the song came at the perfect moment, when he had mostly recovered from the grief of being displaced from his home, but had not yet become angry over the slow recovery. He says he was in the right mood to conjure up verbal images to match his feelings about his home state.
"It really was meant to be sort of impressionistic. There are images of all sorts of facets of Louisiana that I thought about that are included in the commercial campaign, and some of the things that make life special around here. 'The band parades, a jester laughs.' Obviously, we have a lot of parades around here, celebrations, and things like that," he said.
Blue Cross/Blue Shield later married Epstein's verbal images to video images for its public service television campaign to lift the spirits of those who had been displaced. The company is collecting money to help hurricane victims through its charitable foundation. But the song "Our Home, Louisiana" has become popular in its own right, and is now being played by many radio stations in the Gulf region.
Jep Epstein is now being booked to play at venues like the Tulane commencement because of a song he wrote for a health insurance company. But reaction to the words indicates that it is, in its own right, an instrument of healing for all those who have suffered so much over the past eight months in Louisiana.