NEW ORLEANS – Trumpeter Branden Lewis has a lot to be thankful for this year, despite having to sit idle for the past nine months as the coronavirus decimated the once-thriving New Orleans music community.
Lewis has been lucky enough to retain a steady income through the Preservation Hall Foundation, which has been supporting the more than 60 musicians who, like Lewis, play with the iconic Preservation Hall band.
But his own personal good fortune began to weigh on Lewis just after Thanksgiving. It was a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon, and Lewis said he was overwhelmed thinking of the hardships his fellow musicians are facing.
“There are a lot of cats that are getting down to the last $50 in their bank account,” he said.
So Lewis decided to do what he could to give back. By the end of that afternoon, he had created what he calls the Rainy Day Fund for struggling New Orleans musicians.
“Musicians, dm me if times are rough,” Lewis wrote in a Facebook post. “I feel blessed and would like to pay it forward. Rainy day fund still rollin!!! Holla.”
Almost immediately, the requests started pouring in.
“I just figured I’d put it out there,” Lewis said. “I started with an allotment of about $500. I wasn’t keeping track, but I just figured I’d stop around $500.”
Lewis quickly distributed the $500, doling it out in $25 and $50 amounts to any musician who contacted him. That’s when the donations started rolling in.
A trumpeter who plays with a Grammy-winning national touring band chipped in $1,000, and other donations started coming in from musicians and music lovers alike.
“After that $1,500 from me and him, over the next few days we received over $3,500 in donations,” Lewis said. “I’m at almost $5,000 received, and about $4,600 has gone out at this point to about 90 musicians.”
For musicians struggling to make ends meet while they wait for the economy to rebound, every dollar counts, especially this time of year.
“Really, we’re not talking about a lot of money,” Lewis said. “Fifty dollars here and there is not a ton of money, but it’s enough to keep people from doing things out of desperation.”
As long as there are funds to distribute, Lewis said he will hand them out to any musician in need.
If you would like to donate to the Rainy Day Fund, email firstname.lastname@example.org.