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A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on August 14 killing at least 2,250 people and injuring 12,000. Countless families were displaced, leaving the Island nation in the grip of yet another humanitarian crisis.
Daughters threw themselves to the ground wailing. Grandchildren were passed over the gravesite in a poignant tradition and a son’s sorrowful cries of ‘Mama, Mama’ echoed through the air after the casket was lowered into the earth of their backyard. During the wake, vibrant villagers danced until dawn on the ruins of the home where she perished. They sang, drank, partied.
For most Haitians it’s not about dying in the quake but rather living in the rubble of shattered lives and altered destinies where the legendary Haitian resilience survives. They mourn, pray then move on with the task of living.
On good days, life is desperately hard in Haiti. A land of juxtapositions – a breathtaking beauty of spirit and a brutal reality of the streets. Tragedy befalls the country repeatedly. Political anarchy, gang violence, natural disasters. Yet still, life goes on in the wounded landscape.
‘If there is life, there is hope’ said Chrislom Adonnia, Survivor
Without being able to perform because of the pandemic, Billy has become depressed and lonely.
Billy's friend, Julia Banholzer, is in a better situation than Billy since she is younger and uses technology and social media to find a few of the performance opportunities that still exist. Since the beginning of the pandemic she has been regularly playing at Bryant and Central Park in NYC.
I first met Billy in 2017 during the weekly Monday Night Jam at the Jazz Foundation of America (JFA), a nonprofit that assists struggling Jazz musicians. He looked like he had just come out of a movie set from 1950, wearing a fedora, beautiful suit and shirt.
Billy toured the world and shared the stage with such jazz greats as Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, George Benson, and Dinah Washington. He was befriended with Billie Holliday who once cooked for him after he fell sick.
Drumming is a rigorous endeavor, but Billy, who competed in track and field in the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, still regularly performed before the pandemic in New York, where he has lived for more than 70 years.
I worry about Billy's and the future of all the other aging Jazz musicians. Performing means the world to them.