The Roots of Music’s Marching Crusaders Provide a Loving, Powerful Musical Outlet for New Orleans’ Students
The Roots of Music is a nonprofit that serves children from across New Orleans schools with music education and mentorship. It was created by Grammy-winning musician Derrick Tabb in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to provide a space where New Orleans’ children could connect with the city’s culture and music. It has three distinct programs: the Sprouts of Music, for students aged 5-8, the Marching Crusaders Band for students aged 9-14, and the Roots Studio Academy, for students 15-19 years old. We spoke with Eliseanne Coco and Jonell Deshotel, parents of children who have been involved with The Roots of Music for years.
The day Alvin Coco turned nine years old, he ran right up to Mr. Derrick Tabb, Founder and Executive Director of The Roots of Music. He was ready to join the Root’s of Music’s Marching Crusaders, a marching band for children between the ages of nine and fourteen—and he was finally old enough.
“Alvin’s been lying to Mr. Tabb about his age since he knew Mr. Tabb was over The Roots,” explained Alvin’s mother, Eliseanne Coco.
Alvin’s older sister, Enjoli, had been a part of the Marching Crusaders since she was nine and Alvin was six. Alvin watched his older sister march in Mardi Gras parades and perform at Satchmo Fest and Essence Fest. Alvin was desperate to march, too, but he couldn’t convince Mr. Tabb that he was old enough until the day really came.
“When he was finally old enough, he ran up to him, and he was like, ‘Hey, today’s my birthday,’’ Coco explained. Alvin ran back away, but Mr. Tabb called him over and whispered something to him. When Alvin returned to his mother, he was thrilled.
“He was like, ‘I’m in! I’m in! I’m old enough. I’m old enough!’ So, yeah, Alvin has been in since he was nine,’” says Coco.
Coco had learned about the program from her best friend, Jonell Deshotel—whose daughter, Payton Harrison, was Enjoli’s best friend. When Payton was a young child, she’d seen the Marching Crusaders in parades and on TV. “She would always say, ‘I want to be in that band, I want to march with them,’” Deshotel explains. Once she was old enough, Payton joined, and Enjoli followed soon after.
The program is free and provides music education, music theory, tutoring, hot meals, and the chance to be a part of The Roots of Music’s illustrious marching band.
At this point, the band is a huge part of both the Coco and Deshotel families’ lives. Alvin is now a fifth grader at KIPP Believe Primary, where Enjoli is in eighth grade. Payton is an eighth grader at Hynes Charter School. The girls have both earned leadership roles; Enjoli is band captain and Payton is one of three Marching Crusaders’ drum majors. Alvin is a co-section leader on Tuba. After school from Monday through Thursday, they come to The Roots of Music for practice from four to seven PM, followed by dinner. They practice on Saturdays, too.
“I get called Mr. Tabb several times at home by accident—my daughter is just so used to being at Roots,” says Deshotel.
For Coco and Deshotel, The Roots of Music is more than just an opportunity for their children to be in a band they had long admired. It supplements the music education their children get during the school day and provides a loving community of friends and caring adults. Members of the Marching Crusaders can get help with their homework at practice and get tutoring during the summers and on weekends.
“It is truly a family. They look out for each other,” Coco says. “Seeing them grow academically, and the leadership skills that they pick up from being around the older ones, especially with them starting so young, and now they have grown into those leadership positions…they watch each other, and they strive, and they always push each other to do better.”
Deshotel agrees. “With the current climate that we are in now, within the city or the state or even the world, it’s so important for young kids to have that outlet,” she says. “This is a family unit…they’re coming in as, ‘this is your brother, this is your sister. We have to watch each other’s backs. We’re going to work hard together. We’re going to have fun together.’”
She says that being in the band helps her daughter outside of the band, too—it provides a sense of focus and discipline that serves her well in school.
“She knows that she has to work hard. She knows that she has to bring good grades—and not in a way of ‘oh, that’s going to make or break you in the band,’ but because her instructors here mean so much to her, and she wants to make them proud.”
Coco is grateful for the Roots of Music instructors and team as well.
“All the staff, the teachers, they care about the students, they support them inside Roots and outside of Roots,” she says. “They care about their grades, academics, and how they’re doing in school. They know when report cards come up, they check on them, they pull them to the side and have those hard conversations with them sometimes that the parents may not be able to have—and it’s just that good genuine mentorship.”
Deshotel and Coco are part of this community of support, too. They help out at practices and mentor other children in the band.
“Here at The Roots of Music, I am no longer the mom of one child—I have 140 children and I’m proud of it,” Deshotel says.
They chaperone every parade—marching up to eight miles in their usual spot behind the tubas. This year, the Marching Crusaders are marching in seven parades, and Deshotel and Coco are looking forward to it.
They love marching behind their children. Coco says that some of the songs are ones that she and Deshotel played in high school. So, as they chaperone, they play along in the air.
“She’ll do the tenor drum part; I’ll do the snare part. We take turns on cymbals…and it’s like, we don’t feel our feet hurting. We don’t know that our backs are hurting until we get on the bus because we’re so into it. It feels like we’re out there, and we’re a part of it, and I love it,” Coco says.
Sometimes, parades are up to eight miles long. But Coco and Deshotel find that night after night, march after march, it doesn’t get old. They’re proud of their children and the Roots of Music Family, and they’re emotionally moved each time.
As Coco puts it, “We get goosebumps every time they play.”
Congratulations to Alvin, Enjoli, Payton, and all the young people marching in this year’s parades. Thank you for sharing your music with us—and thank you to all the family members like Jonell and Eliseanne marching alongside student bands this parade season. We also want to thank Mr. Tabb and the entire team at The Roots of Music for your partnership with schools and our community through the power of music education and mentorship.