Grand Re-Opening of Mahalia Jackson Theater

Mayor C. Ray Nagin, joined by members of the New Orleans City Council and local arts organizations, today officially announced the line-up of programs and entertainers that will highlight the re-opening of the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts.

Opening events will begin on Thursday, January 8, with a special program featuring New Orleans performers. The week-long celebration will include top singers, dancers and musicians, including, among others, violinist Itzhak Perlman, Gospel singer Yolanda Adams and tenor Placido Domingo.

The re-opening of the theater marks a major accomplishment in the rebuilding of city infrastructure. Along with public safety facilities, Mayor Nagin prioritized the complete refurbishment of the Mahalia Jackson Theater immediately after Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed.

"The re-opening of the Mahalia Jackson Theater will demonstrate to the world that New Orleans is back - our culture is back, our city is rebuilding and we will be even better than before, " said Mayor Nagin. "We have planned an outstanding week of activities that has something for every New Orleanian and we look forward to this spectacular celebration."

The cost for the renovation of the theater is approximately $22 million. To date, FEMA has obligated $8.9 million to the project.

Inaugurated in 1973, when New Orleans native Norman Treigle performed Giuseppe Verdi's Messa di Requiem with the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra, the Mahalia Jackson Theater was severely damaged during Hurricane Katrina. Wind damaged the roof, read doors, stage and other fixtures. It also shattered an 8-foot-by-16-foot window. The basement of the theater received more than 14 feet of water, which damaged the motor control center, orchestra lifts, HVAC controls, sewage ejector pumps and other structural components. The repaired building will include a state-of-the-art sound system, a new orchestra shell and enhanced lighting. The theater also features a removable floor exclusively for dance performances.

The theater is located at 801 North Rampart St. in Armstrong Park, which is also being completely renovated. The refurbished Mahalia Jackson Theater will serve as a symbol of the rejuvenation of the city's cultural assets.

The week will begin with a very special concert, the New Orleans All Star Revue. The show will feature a diverse offering of quintessential New Orleans performers, including Grammy winning songstress Irma Thomas, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Kermit Ruffins, Rebirth Brass Band, Marva Wright, Michael Ward, Phillip Manuel, Jeremy Davenport, Ingrid Lucia and Fredy Omar. The free event will welcome the entire community to celebrate the reopening of this historic venue.

One of the highlights of the week will be a special tribute to gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, during which Mayor Nagin will present the first "Mahalia Jackson Gospel Pioneer Award" to a local citizen who has championed gospel music in the New Orleans community. Gospel superstar Yolanda Adams and trumpet virtuoso Irvin Mayfield will headline the "Tribute to Mahalia Jackson, " which was coordinated by the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Adams will perform several of her own songs and will be joined on selected songs by the One New Orleans Chorus. Adams and Mayfield will collaborate on one or more songs during the show.

Jackson is a native of the Black Pearl area of New Orleans' Carrollton neighborhood. With her powerful, distinct voice, she became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was the first person to be dubbed the Queen of Gospel Music. She sang at President John F. Kennedy's inaugural ball. She was an ardent supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, and sang to a crowd of 250, 000 at the March on Washington in 1963 at the request of her friend the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She sang again for Dr. King at his funeral in 1968, after which she disappeared from most public political activities. Dr. King once said, "A voice like hers comes along once in a millennium."

The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences created the Gospel Music or Other Religious Recording category for Jackson, making her the first Gospel Music Artist to win a Grammy Award. She performed for Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. She also sang for Queen Elizabeth II and Sir Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom, the King and Queen of Denmark, the Presidents of France and Liberia, the Empress of Japan, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, the prime ministers of several Caribbean islands and several other heads of state and political figures worldwide. She died in 1972 at the age of 60.

Another artist who has demonstrated a strong commitment also is being honored as part of the re-opening. Mayor Nagin and the New Orleans City Council have named the stage in honor of the celebrated tenor Placido Domingo. Domingo, who will perform during the theater's opening week, appeared with the New Orleans Opera Association in nine performances from 1962-1971. He appeared again on March 4, 2006 for the single largest operatic event ever in New Orleans. His support secured the immediate future of the opera company following Katrina and Rita.

"The restoration of New Orleans Opera's Mahalia Jackson Theater is a symbol of new life for the city following the devastation of 2005, but in these difficult economic times it is also a symbol of hope and of faith in the future on the part of a forward-looking artistic organization, " Mayor Nagin said.

On January 10, the New Orleans Ballet Association and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra will collaborate to create An Evening of Music and Dance, which will feature the critically praised New York City Ballet principal dancers Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans and dancers from the illustrious San Francisco Ballet, as well as legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman.

"We are honored to be one of the first companies to perform at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts since its renovation following Hurricane Katrina, " said San Francisco Ballet Executive Director Glenn McCoy. "We hope, in our own way, that this performance demonstrates the respect and admiration we hold for the city of New Orleans."

The theater will again serve as the venue home for the New Orleans Ballet Association, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and the New Orleans Opera.

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