How to Survive a Hurricane: A New Orleans Songstress on Rebuilding Her Career in Dallas

Marla B. Spirit in the music video for her song "Humble Guy."
Marla B. Spirit in the music video for her song "Humble Guy."
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Before the Hurricane Katrina hit, Marla B. Spirit was a successful musician in New Orleans, performing a blend of hip-hop and soul with a band called Soul Remedy. The city accommodated her ambitions to earn a degree and focus on her son, who was 1 1/2.

When the storm came 12 years ago, Spirit was trapped in New Orleans as it endured the worst of Katrina. She regained her footing in Dallas, including her pursuit of music.

“It’s gonna take some time to rebuild," she says to those going through similar experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. "But don’t stop what you were doing.”

After Hurricane Katrina impacted New Orleans, Spirit and her family stayed in hotels as much as they could to avoid the Superdome. Eventually, they had to go there to catch a bus out of the city. Spirit remembers seeing the dead bodies and trying desperately to keep the children from seeing them, too. The stench was so pervasive, she says, that she covered the children in Vicks cold remedy.

“All of the stuff you saw on TV, we were in that,” Spirit says.

Spirit moved to Dallas with her 2-year-old son, her mother and her sister to be close to family in the area. Challenege emotionally and struggling financially, Spirit worked hard to make her way. Her initial efforts to find a band to re-create her sound failed, and she decided to finish her degree. She enrolled in Brookhaven College sans the credit she had earned in New Orleans because Katrina rendered academic records unretrievable.

Despite the setback, Spirit earned a literary scholarship for a song she sang as a final class project at Brookhaven. This helped pay for a year of school, and when she was done she transferred to the University of North Texas to finish college.

In her senior year at UNT, a bill was passed that made her ineligible for the financial aid she needed, so Spirit had to put her degree on hold once again — this time just two semesters shy of a degree.

During all of this, Spirit was recording her first solo project, Scorpio Blues; raising her son; and taking care of her mother, who had breast cancer.

Spirit says she wrote the album for her mother, hoping its success would allow her mother to stop working and rest. Spirit's mother had two or three jobs throughout her adult life to support her three children and pay for them to go to private school, and until cancer forced her to stop, she was still working multiple jobs.

“I just wanted to make a better life for my mom, the life she never really had,” Spirit says.

Spirit's mother died, and Spirit never got to give her mom the better life she dreamed she could.

“I’m not going to give up,” Spirits says. “I know this is what I am supposed to do in this life.”

She scrimped and saved to record Scorpio Blues in her home with producer Jason Bowditch between teaching fitness classes at the YMCA and picking her son up from school. Spirit is very open about the ways that Katrina has affected her. She still wears tennis shoes more often than not, in case she has to run. She keeps water bottles with her and her son at all times, in case they are stranded.

“I feel like I’m still rebuilding," she says.

Marla B. Spirit performs at 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9, at Wine Therapist, 1909 Skillman St., free, thewinetherapist.com

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