When the 124th Tournament of Roses Parade begins Tuesday, fans of the HBO television drama Treme might recognize the sounds of one of the marching bands on Colorado Boulevard.
The Roots of Music, which has grown from an idea hatched in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to a marching band featured on a top-rated HBO show, will make the long trip from New Orleans to Pasadena to perform in the Rose Parade.
"We got a call from some group called the Tournament of Roses and they said we were in the Rose Parade," said Allison Reinhardt, Roots of Music spokeswoman. "I dropped the phone."
Bands spend years trying to qualify for the Rose Parade, and out of thousands of applicants each year, a few dozen earn the privilege of marching in the nationally televised New Year's Day parade.
But earning a spot in the Rose Parade was only the latest little miracle for the Roots of Music, a program built from the ground up in a city almost washed off the map by a hurricane.
In the wake of Katrina, Reinhardt and a close friend, jazz musician Derrick Tabb, were busy putting their lives back together. Reinhardt read a heart-breaking story in the Times-Picayune.
"I was reading an article on Times-Picayune website about schools and the lack of building and teachers," Reinhardt said. "Derek said `Allison let's start a marching band,' I said `great let's get academic tutoring,"' Reinhardt said. "I was hungry during band let's have food."
In a city where neighborhoods were still underwater, starting a marching band might seem imprudent.
"Music here is more popular than sports. In New Orleans parades just start randomly, there are parades for funerals and weddings." Reinhardt said. "Children in this city will pick their high school based on their marching band and kids will find someone in that zip code to use their address so they can attend that school."
Roots of Music launched in May 2008. Reinhardt and Tabb expected 19 children to sign up the first day, but 42 children showed up in their offices. Within three weeks 90 children joined and for a time the program ran out of instruments.
Many of the children were evacuees from Katrina and two boys in the program were lifted off a a roof by a helicopter during Katrina, separated from their family for weeks following the hurricane evacuation, Reinhardt said.
The program currently has a waiting list of more than 600 children, desperate to get into the music program.
Children must maintain a C+ average in the program; homework help and a nutritious meals are provided.
Roots of Music was off and running. The state offered the program use of the Cabildo, the colonial governor's house when New Orleans was under Spanish rule.
But even with the help from the state, the Roots of Music program struggled, Reinhardt said.
The attention given to Roots of Music was a blessing and a curse. Children flocked to the program, but all the press led some to believe the nonprofit was flush with cash, Reinhardt said.
The opposite was true.
Reinhardt said her dad floated the group money to keep the program running. But after being feature on the CNN Heroes news special, the fundraising kicked in from all over the country.
And then the Treme producers came knocking on their door to cast the band in the television drama.
"They were looking for kids to play certain parts in Treme," Reinhardt said. "They either wanted a trumpet player or a trombone player."
But now the children get a trip to California, which for the children in the program is special not just because it's a chance to march in famed Rose Parade.
"It's great we are taking this kids to California and we are not doing it, because we are evacuating," Reinhardt said.