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Hurricane Katrina was 'tragedy turned into blessing' for musician

2017 swept into the record books as the most destructive hurricane season in US history. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and ...

Posted: Jan 12, 2018 1:51 PM
Updated: Jan 12, 2018 1:51 PM

2017 swept into the record books as the most destructive hurricane season in US history. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria forced millions to evacuate, leaving families from Texas to Puerto Rico fearing that they might never see their homes again.

It's a feeling that's only too familiar to Louisiana native John Michael Bradford -- and one he will never forget.

John Michael Bradford was evacuated from his home outside New Orleans for months

One of the people evacuated with Bradford was musician "Big Sam" Williams

"I just cried so much," Bradford said, recalling the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"It was definitely traumatic, not knowing what was going to happen. We'd see the news every day, all the craziness happening. Our friends are losing homes. It's just hard."

It was especially hard for Bradford, who was a young boy when Katrina hit.

"I was about 7 or 8 years old, waking up on a Saturday morning, and suddenly my parents turn on the news, and they said we have to evacuate."

Bradford, with his family and some friends, evacuated from the New Orleans suburb of Metairie to a friend's house in San Antonio, Texas. Despite the cramped living conditions, Bradford's family tried to keep things as normal as possible. Bradford was enrolled in a new school but found that he wasn't ready for the change.

"I couldn't bear being in another school. I couldn't mentally focus," Bradford said.

The sounds of home

It was a family friend, Sam Williams, who gave Bradford his first real sense of home. Williams, his girlfriend and her younger brother had evacuated with Bradford and his family to San Antonio.

Williams and Bradford didn't know each other before Katrina forced them into the same house. But Williams had something that piqued Bradford's interest: a trombone.

"Sam was the first time I had been around a trombone, and his sound is so big and warm," Bradford recalled. "It really made me feel good to hear music and that New Orleans funky style."

Williams is the front man and trombonist for the "NOLAdelic PowerFunk" band Big Sam's Funky Nation.

It was music that gave Bradford not only the comfort of home but a sense of purpose. "I gravitated towards him. I wanted to be like Sam."

Playing with inspiration

Bradford and Williams spent a couple of months together in Texas before heading back to their respective homes in the New Orleans area.

But Bradford was coming back a changed person with his heart set on one thing: playing music.

"For a year and a half, I kept asking my parents for a trombone. Then, for Christmas, my grandfather gave me his high school trumpet. Immediately, I was able to play."

Born with natural musical ability and living in the birthplace of jazz, Bradford took up the trumpet and never looked back.

Williams started inviting Bradford to play with Big Sam's Funky Nation, and eventually other seasoned New Orleans musicians took notice of Bradford, as well. "I was invited to play in Jackson Square with all the older musicians," Bradford said.

"They pushed me in front of the audience and made me be the leader. I'm the youngest person there, but they pushed me to be a leader."

Tuning into destiny

Bradford's musical gift has now taken him from the streets of New Orleans to performance halls around the world, playing shows in Japan, in Sweden, at Carnegie Hall in New York, even at the Grammys.

His first album, "Something Old, Something New," came out last year, and he's studying at the Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship.

Even though Bradford feels that music was his "destiny," he credits his evacuation experience with Williams during Katrina for putting him on his current path. It was surviving that trauma that steered him toward a new life. It's a story he hopes will inspire those affected by disasters everywhere.

"I always think back to Katrina. I always think back to Sam and about those times when I just dreamed about being a musician. Now that I'm doing it and seeing that people really love what I'm doing, I can't even explain how it makes me feel.

"For me, it was a tragedy turned into a blessing," Bradford said. "I think music can turn a tragedy into something that's beautiful because it can touch so many people. It's universal."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 111322

Reported Deaths: 3202
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7796173
DeSoto670178
Harrison484483
Jackson435081
Rankin383786
Madison373993
Lee344979
Forrest296377
Jones283782
Washington252197
Lafayette242642
Lauderdale2376131
Lamar217138
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Oktibbeha195854
Neshoba1814111
Lowndes174962
Panola166337
Leflore160787
Sunflower157649
Warren152755
Monroe145972
Pontotoc143819
Pike137256
Lincoln135555
Copiah135036
Marshall134826
Scott123829
Coahoma123436
Grenada120038
Yazoo119333
Simpson118649
Union115225
Holmes113560
Leake113340
Tate113239
Itawamba110424
Pearl River108958
Adams104343
Prentiss102619
Wayne98721
Alcorn96012
George93917
Marion92942
Covington92525
Tippah85921
Newton84427
Chickasaw82625
Winston82221
Tallahatchie81825
Tishomingo79341
Hancock78127
Attala77626
Clarke72349
Clay67621
Jasper67417
Walthall63327
Calhoun61412
Noxubee59617
Smith58316
Claiborne53216
Montgomery52923
Tunica52217
Lawrence49914
Yalobusha49314
Perry48122
Carroll46312
Greene45518
Stone45014
Amite41713
Quitman4146
Humphreys41216
Jefferson Davis39811
Webster36613
Wilkinson33020
Kemper32015
Benton3154
Sharkey27814
Jefferson27010
Franklin2373
Choctaw2036
Issaquena1063
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 153016

Reported Deaths: 2633
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22563372
Mobile14335314
Tuscaloosa10023133
Montgomery9759196
Madison904893
Shelby709960
Lee644966
Baldwin640569
Marshall428248
Calhoun412759
Etowah405749
Morgan396833
Houston364632
DeKalb319628
Elmore310752
St. Clair282142
Limestone270828
Walker268892
Talladega258435
Cullman227623
Lauderdale208740
Autauga201029
Jackson200915
Franklin199731
Colbert192228
Russell19053
Dallas185627
Blount184824
Chilton181731
Escambia171328
Coffee16669
Covington166029
Dale163451
Pike130512
Chambers130143
Tallapoosa128686
Clarke127117
Marion104729
Butler99840
Barbour9889
Marengo97221
Winston90413
Geneva8417
Pickens80517
Lawrence80031
Randolph79814
Bibb79114
Hale74529
Cherokee72214
Clay71912
Lowndes70127
Henry6376
Bullock63517
Monroe6319
Washington62212
Crenshaw59330
Perry5806
Wilcox55912
Conecuh55713
Fayette55312
Cleburne5287
Macon52820
Sumter46721
Lamar4565
Choctaw38712
Greene33916
Coosa1973
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