Perry Mathieu
One might think that the children of a New Orleans musician would get to stay out later, sidestep their homework more often, or at least be forced to answer fewer nagging questions when leaving the house than their average peer.

For the three teenaged children of Mr. Perry Mathieu—Joshua, 19, Megan, 17, and Cody, 14—dad’s cool job brings no such perks.

“Honestly, I have to be the most over-protective parent I know,” says Mr. Mathieu, the leader of the Southpaw Sound Agenda, a New Orleans-based soul/funk/reggae band. “Courtney, my wife, she’s the easy one. And the kids know it,” he laughs.

Mr. Mathieu, who sings, plays keyboard, and occasionally plays drums for his band, is certainly not the first musician to establish roots in St. Roch. The neighborhood has long boasted a rich population of creative professionals, including early jazz great Jelly Roll Morton.

After spending most of his childhood and young adult life across Elysian Fields Avenue in the city’s 7th Ward, Mr. Mathieu purchased his house at 1205 St. Roch Avenue fifteen years ago. With the exception of the family’s displacement in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he and his wife Courtney, a nurse, have raised their three children in the home ever since.

“It’s a beautiful neighborhood we’ve got here. I love the trees. I love the neutral ground. It’s beautiful,” he says.

As a musician who works nights, Mr. Mathieu often enjoyed the freedom to spend his days with his three children when they were young. He recalls a treasured past time of walking his three young kids up the oak-lined St. Roch Avenue neutral ground to Sampson/St. Roch Playground.

“Oh man, I loved it. We’d walk all up and down this neighborhood. I was lucky – I was able to find a balance between my work and family early on. You see a lot of guys in my line of work that never find that balance.”

Though Mr. Mathieu thinks St. Roch is safer today than when he purchased his home, he is still frustrated by what he sees as a slow pace of redevelopment in the neighborhood and broader St. Claude Avenue corridor. He expresses his aggravation as only a musician can:

“To me, here in New Orleans, we’ve got all these government officials, all these not-for-profit groups, and they’re all playing their own tune. We got all these people playing, but they can’t get together and play in the same key. Until that happens, it’s just noise. Music has a life; it has a body, it has a head, and it has a mind. Until all these people get to playing together, it’s not going to be music.

Highest on Mr. Mathieu’s wish list for the neighborhood is enhanced access to education.

“It’s a great neighborhood, but we suffer from a lack of schools. As a parent, you want to keep your kids close, but we have to send them miles away.”

Mr. Mathieu’s sons, Joshua and Cody, have both been diagnosed with mild forms of autism, and attend school across town at St. Michael’s School in the Lower Garden District. The Catholic institution excels in special needs education.

Megan attends Warren Easton High School in Mid-City. In what Mr. Mathieu sees as compelling evidence of the need for more schools in the neighborhood, Megan catches a bus each morning almost directly across St. Claude Avenue from Colton School, a nearby middle school which has been shuttered since Katrina.

Luckily for Mr. Mathieu, all three take their studies seriously, and all are beginning to formulate larger career plans.

Joshua is thinking of becoming a chef, while Cody is considering becoming a priest. Mr. Mathieu, however, thinks his oldest son Joshua has the potential to pursue a different, more familiar career path if he so chooses.

“You should see Josh play the drums, man. His ability to focus and keep a tempo is unbelievable. He’s a professional drummer, that’s all there is to it.”

Joshua, in fact, can often be found playing the drums for the Southpaw Sound Agenda during weekend gigs.

“I don’t have him play just because he’s my son. I’ve been around music all my life, and I haven’t come across too many people who can do what he does. He makes it sound like he’s got six drumsticks going, not just two.”

Mr. Mathieu thinks the boys’ autism has blessed both Joshua and Cody with unusual talents.

“They say disability, but that depends on how you define normal,” he says. “Both have an incredible ability to focus. Josh, you can see it in his drumming. He gets going and he won’t lose it. Cody, he’s in the Bible twenty-four/seven.”

Megan, meanwhile, has dreams of becoming a veterinarian.

“I joke with her all the time. I say if you’re going to be a vet, why not be a doctor? That way, if the old man has a heart attack, you don’t have to go look at the dog to figure out how to fix me!”

As his three teenaged children approach adulthood, Mr. Mathieu is confident that he and has wife have instilled in them a core set of values which will guide the three through their formative years.

“We worked hard as parents to teach them the importance of respect, and give them the ability to think for themselves when they’re out in the street. Kids make mistakes, and I’ve been around plenty of guys that made a bad mistake when they were young and it follows them their entire life. I just always made sure to give them enough so that if they do make a mistake, they’ll be able to get back on track,” he says.

Mr. Mathieu and his band, the Southpaw Sound Agenda, can be seen performing their song “Turning In the Wrong Direction” in the YouTube clip below. 

*Courtesy of Faubourg St. Roch Project

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