By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator

With a pep in their step and a wave of a white napkin, residents of Joseph Homes rose from their seats to join the second line that was dancing to a rowdy rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” performed by Mary McBride and her band in front of the complex for parolees on Laurel Street on Thursday, March 14.  

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Charles deGravelles, center, joins his niece, Mary McBride and her band for a Home Tour concert for Joseph Homes residents in Baton Rouge on March 14.  Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator  

 

The impromptu parade of people, which included staffers of Joseph Homes and St. Vincent de Paul, made for an atmosphere of good old-fashioned fun and memories – something that can be in short supply for Joseph Homes’ residents as they try to navigate their way back into day-to-day life in the real world.  

“It feels wonderful,” said New Orleans native Oliver Francis, who suffered a stroke in August and was still in rehab on his Oct. 29 release date from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. He moved into an apartment at Joseph Homes on March 1. “When the Saints Go Marching In” is his favorite song. “It has a certain melody with it and it brings back memories from New Orleans,” he said  

On any other Thursday evening, the men living at Joseph Homes, a residence for recently released incarcerated men, would be attending a weekly support group meeting. But on this night, support and love came from a different source – music.  

Linda Fjeldsjo, coordinator for Joseph Homes for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, said she was contacted by Charles deGravelles, a long-time volunteer at Angola and founder of Quest for Peace, about Mary McBride, who happens to be his niece, and her band are traveling on the Home Tour. The group performs for people who are displaced from their regular homes.  

“She was looking for small venues to play, and Charles has been to our support groups and knows a lot of the guys because of his volunteer work and he asked if this could be one of the venues,” Fjeldsjo explained. “I thought it would just be wonderful for the guys.”  

“Our idea this year is focusing on displaced people,” said deGravelles, a musician who joined the band to perform a song he had written. “So, we’ve done consecutive gigs this week – we went down to the Isle de Jean Charles, where the Indians are getting displaced from their island; we did a detox center; ending Sunday with a celebration of newcomers for immigrants and refugees.”  

McBride started her mission nine years ago and, through funding by the U.S. State Department, Quest for Peace and private donations, the Home Tour has made stops around the U.S. and 34 countries, playing “for people who live there and playing where they live.”  

“We’re very happy to be here at Joseph Homes because we have a real commitment to playing both in prisons and for people after they’ve gotten out of prison,” said McBride, who grew up in Washington, D.C. but spent countless summers visiting grandparents in Louisiana.  

With her soulful, powerful voice McBride sang old time classics from Jimmy Reed, Irma Thomas and Ray Charles, along with a pepped-up version of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” a song she added to her set after an inmate requested it during a visit to Angola. The band got the crowd on its feet with its finale “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  

“I think that we all have a responsibility to reach people who we wouldn’t ordinarily come into contact with in our day-to-day (lives),” said McBride. “And that opens our minds and opens our hearts. I am a big believer that arts can heal a lot of things and they do. I just think music does it a little bit faster.”  

“I enjoyed myself tonight,” Earnest Lawson, a Joseph Homes’ resident, said of the concert. Of his newfound freedom after serving 42 years at Angola, he said, “Mindboggling – everyday is mindboggling.”  

voice McBride sang old time classics from Jimmy Reed, Irma Thomas and Ray Charles, along with a pepped-up version of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” a song she added to her set after an inmate requested it during a visit to Angola. The band got the crowd on its feet with its finale “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  

“I think that we all have a responsibility to reach people who we wouldn’t ordinarily come into contact with in our day-to-day (lives),” said McBride. “And that opens our minds and opens our hearts. I am a big believer that arts can heal a lot of things and they do. I just think music does it a little bit faster.”  

“I enjoyed myself tonight,” Earnest Lawson, a Joseph Homes’ resident, said of the concert. Of his newfound freedom after serving 42 years at Angola, he said, “Mindboggling – everyday is mindboggling.” 

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Mary McBride sings “When the Saints Go Marching In” at a concert for Joseph Homes as staffers, volunteers and residents join in a second line. Photo by Kerry Myers | Parole Project