Musician starts non-profit to fund New Orleans’ artists during the pandemic after losing his father to the virus

A trombonist, music producer, and New Orleans native started a non-profit organization during the pandemic in hopes of keeping the city’s music scene alive and providing temporary financial relief for artists.

Delfeayo Marsalis’ father, Ellis Marsalis Jr., was a jazz icon in New Orleans, as well as the patriarch of the Marsalis family. After 85 years of bringing jazz to his community, the elder Marsalis died of complications from Covid-19.

The day after his death, a local music store put out a sign that read, “Thank you Ellis Marsalis for keeping NOLA music alive!”

“The idea resonated with me and I realized that, yes, that’s exactly what my father did in his own way, and that’s the perfect name,” Marsalis said.

So he founded KNOMA, Keep New Orleans Music Alive, to financially support local musicians now, when they need it most.

KNOMA’s mission has grown in importance during the pandemic because of what music represents to the city. “Happiness, joy, and celebration — ideals that are very much needed today,” Marsalis said.

“Even when things are totally jive, the folks in New Orleans are cool with each other” when music brings them together, he said.

Marsalis feels that New Orleans musicians and artists are taken for granted. The pandemic has hit these communities hard, because most artists are self-financed and depend on social activities to sustain their livelihoods.

“Many great musicians must hone their skills on the street corners or in bars. It’s a tough business and now even tougher with all social activities on lockdown,” he says.

Although Marsalis appreciates artists that move to New Orleans to create music, KNOMA focuses on supporting natives of New Orleans to preserve the city’s music roots.

“African immigrants who were brought here in chains, they were brought here to make certain people financial wealthy. But they ended up making the world rich in ways that hadn’t been imagined. New Orleans music and culture are prime examples of this richness,” he says.

Even though KNOMA was founded to alleviate the pandemic’s hardships, Marsalis expects to stay and help the music scene “for years to come.”

“We’re just biding our time and waiting for the chance to make folks happy again,” he says.