I’ll Fly Away

Playing to the heavens.

The quoted paragraphs are what I wrote shortly after I read of Deborah Cotton’s passing. I scheduled about a gazillion second line pictures. Then, the second line happened. Word was passed around. Slowly at first. There would be a second line in memory of Deb at 5pm, at Esplanade and Claiborne. Under I-10. Then it moved to Tuba Fats Square. The start time changed to 6pm. The parade eventually started rolling at about 7pm or later.

My friend and fellow photographer, Mike said, “Well, you know. It’s a fluid situation. It’s also just a New Orleans thing. The delay was good. Mike and I had a little dinner. I got to hang out with people I haven’t seen in a while. The very sad event took on some kind of spiritual meaning. It’s hard to explain. That too, is a New Orleans thing.

If you’re wondering about all the brass band pictures, I have a good excuse. They were the heart and soul of this second line. Obviously, there were no social clubs to lead. No Mardi Gras Indians to lead. There were no police to watch over us and hold traffic. The band was cobbled together from a lot of brass bands. When they started, they opened with “I’ll Fly Away” and segued back and forth into “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” It was hard for a lot of the photographers to work. This odd moisture kept getting into my eyes. One more thing. See that little trumpet player? With the red horn? He’s the future. He’ll be on a big stage some day.

From May 2, 2017

“Once. Long ago. The phone rang. It was my then-wife telling me that John Lennon had been shot and killed. I used to hate phone calls at weird hours. Things have changed. Now, horrible news comes at any time of day. From every possible source. You can’t get away from it. And, so it happened yesterday.

About 10 different ways.

Deborah Cotton had passed. Big Red Cotton died from gunshot wounds she received during the infamous Mother’s Day mass shooting on May 12, 2013. Almost four years earlier. 19 people were injured during the shooting at the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club’s second line. She was doing what I do. She was documenting the event. Instead of a still camera, she made videos. She wrote. She talked. She listened. She organized. And, best of all, she forgave the shooter.

Deb believed, as I do, that the second line culture and Mardi Gras Indian are a positive force. It’s a force for good. It helps raises up young people by example. By thought. By deed. By action.

I’m not sure what more there is to add. Except, she was good to all of us. She was one of us. Because of that, my photographs of her are buried in the largeness of my archives. That’s my loss. But, not yours. Instead of a picture her, I’m doing the next best thing. You can see for yourself.

Even though I am retired from the streets, I’ll come out for whatever we’ll do to honor her. After all, this is a death in the family. And, I’ll make pictures. You know. The work is the prayer.

Rest in Peace, Deborah Cotton.

Rest in Peace, all of you who have died on New Orleans’ mean streets.”

And, so he begins.


      1. Its ok Ray … I’m sure you have thousands of them in your archives that will surface on occasion. But I still enjoy your other stuff and your creative writing!


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