Local musicians perform at benefit for St. Jude Center

Ed Perkins retired as a New Orleans police officer in 2009, and he was so grateful to have survived — literally and figuratively — that he wanted to do something to give back to the community.

He came up with the idea of a benefit concert for St. Jude Community Center, and the “Sounds of New Orleans,” an all-star concert featuring some of the Crescent City’s hottest musicians, was born.

The third annual “Sounds of New Orleans” concert takes place Saturday at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre with a lineup that includes the Brass-A-Holics, Charmaine Neville, gospel choir Shades of Praise and roots rock musician Paul Sanchez, one of the original founders of Cowboy Mouth.

WWL-TV anchor Karen Swenson and Emile Gauchet, of WWL Radio, will serve as emcees, and Clark Knighten and 4X4 Connection as the house band. New Orleans Saints and Pelican owners Tom and Gayle Benson are the honorary chairmen.

The festivities begin Friday with a patron party at the National World War II Museum. Susan Cowsill will be the featured performer, with drummer Russ Broussard accompanying.

St. Jude Community Center, located on North Rampart Street, serves breakfast and lunch to the homeless, houses homeless working women, offers adult basic education and houses volunteers who continue to come to New Orleans to help rebuild post-Katrina. It also works with Second Harvest Food Bank to distribute food and Responsibility House to help drug addicts.

“This was something I wanted to do as a way of saying thank you for surviving 27 years as a police officer on the streets of New Orleans,” said Perkins, whose time with the New Orleans Police Department included 10 years on the SWAT team and five years with the Violent Crime Squad.

But having an idea and seeing it through are two different things, and Perkins knew he would have to have significant community support in order to make it happen. He proposed the idea to the Rev. Tony Rigoli of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, home of the International Shrine of St. Jude, and Sister Beth Mouch, director of St. Jude Community Center, just across the street. Neither could resist.

“We had absolutely no funds whatsoever, not a dime,” Perkins said. “This was truly a scrap job.”

He and a committee of volunteers worked on publicity, passing out flyers in coffee shops and creating a website.

“Not long after that a retired priest bought two of the $5,000 packages, and someone else purchased another $5,000 package,” he said. “It just came to a place where it was destined to be, and everything started to fall into place.

“The show was fantastic,” said Perkins, an amateur singer and drummer. “We had Irma Thomas the first year, we had Rockin’ Dopsie, and all these people donated their time. The show continued to grow, and more and more people look forward to it every year.”

This year’s show offers everything from gospel and jazz to blues and rock.

Other musicians on the program include jazz singer Naydja Cojoe, saxophonists Lance Ellis and Chucky C, and gospel group Henry Smith Jr. with Agapepraises & Friends.

General admission tickets are $35 each, with sponsor packages available from $150 to $7,500.

“St. Jude’s relies solely on contributions,” Perkins said. “And 100 percent of the proceeds from the concert goes to the center.

“It’s amazing the amount of people they feed on a weekly basis. The first year of the concert we featured one of the single women who had been living there. She managed to gain her high school diploma through the GED program and then entered college.”

Perkins said he can’t think of a more fulfilling way to spend his retirement than by volunteering with St. Jude’s.

“After Katrina, a lot of us found out what it was like to be homeless,” he said. “And once I retired, I had an opportunity to learn about all the programs they do in the community. I decided, ‘This is something I want to do.’

“I’m grateful that I was able to walk away unscathed after 27 years as a police officer. I just appreciate being able to come out of that and give something back.”