New Orleans — A bicentennial is a tough act to follow, but Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne is making Louisiana music the star attraction in 2013, and a made-for-television film narrated and produced by Harry Connick Jr. is ending the state’s bicentennial celebration and kicking off a yearlong focus on the state’s music.
“Sunshine by the Stars: Celebrating Louisiana Music,’’ will premiere at 7 p.m. Sunday on LPB, WLAE-TV 32. But early screenings were held Wednesday night at the Old U.S. Mint in conjunction with a gala attended by some of the musical greats featured in the film, including Connick.
“This was the cherry on the top of the bicentennial sundae,’’ said Dardenne, who praised Connick, LPB and sponsor BP for making the salute to music possible.
The film covers Louisiana’s broad musical canvas — jazz, zydeco, country, Cajun, gospel, rock and country — but the film highlights the profound differences in each genre by having each musician tackle the same song, “You Are My Sunshine.’’
That idea was Connick’s, he said in a question-and-answer session following the first screening.
“I thought it would be cool to take a song that was so simple and have it interpreted by at least some of our musicians,’’ he said.
In the film’s narration, Connick notes that it’s either ironic or fitting that a state beset by storms celebrates a song about the healing power of the sun — a song that he says can be interpreted as a lullaby, a love song or a breakup song.
The first musicians featured, the Zion Harmonizers, turned the song into a hymn of praise, with some adroit changes to the lyrics. And the film ends with Connick’s own spirited arrangement, filmed as musicians second-line through the French Quarter.
An audience member asked if the piano Connick played in the film — a highly weathered and fancifully decorated instrument — was really used in the music. It wasn’t, he acknowledged.
“There were only two notes that worked on that piano,’’ he said with a laugh, and then recounted his days as a student at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts when he complained to instructor Ellis Marsalis about an out-of-tune piano he had been forced to use when playing a gig.
“He said, ‘I played a gig where only two keys worked, a C and an E,’ ’’ Connick recalled.
He asked the jazz great what he did, and Marsalis said he played C and E.
The showcase of Louisiana music, however, isn’t similarly limited, despite its focus on one familiar song. The film touches on musicians and genres from all parts of the state, with performances shot in a cemetery and streetcar, as well as more traditional venues.
Performers include Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley, Buddy Guy, Troy “Trombone Shorty’’ Andrews, the Marsalis family, Irma Thomas, Tim McGraw, Buckwheat Zydeco and Better than Ezra, among others.
As Connick notes in the film, “We’re always looking for new ways to serve up our favorite recipes.’’
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