And then came Hurricane Katrina and a flood of water that nearly drowned those unmistakable New Orleans sounds. That first Mardi Gras after the storm, there were parades and the city struggled to regain its rhythm. But something was missing: the marching bands. There was only one New Orleans-based marching band left in the city.
With many of its schools closed and its students dispersed all around the country, New Orleans' high-stepping school bands had fallen silent. In the wake of Katrina, school spirit was as battered as the few band instruments that were left behind.
"The silence really spoke volumes about the situation at that time," Bill Taylor, executive director of the Tipitina's Foundation, told CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston. "Music is inseparable from New Orleans. You take that away and you don't have New Orleans anymore."
The Tipitina's Foundation decided to use music to make music, enlisting the aid of local musicians like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and big names like Bonnie Raitt to raise money to buy instruments for the struggling schools.
Since Katrina, the Tipitina's Foundation has raised $1 million, which means hundreds and hundreds of bright new instruments or the school children of New Orleans.
"What if you got your start, instead of a beat-up trombone, you got a brand new one. Think of the difference that makes psychologically in your desire, and motivation to play," Taylor said.
As high school band leader John Summers can tell you, it was those gleaming new band instruments that kept many of his students in school.
"We didn't have to worry about anybody missing practice, I can tell you that much," he said.
For Jasmine Scott, it was the music that kept her going.
"When I march in parades I see all the people cheerin' and little kids sayin' 'Oh, I wanna play that instrument,' and it makes me want to perform and not give up, even when I'm tired," she said.
Without Tipitina's, the Sophie B. Wright Middle School wouldn't have a music program at all.
"We had no band instruments to speak of. One, two, three instruments I was able to get from donations and what-have-you is not enough," the school's music director Paul Batiste said.
This year, Batiste says students are clamoring to be in the marching band.
"I have as much music as I want," Batiste said. "And the music keeps coming. Children are knocking down our doors every day to join the program. We're growing."
But it's not just about the music. It's about belonging, and discipline, and pride. Many students say the band is helping them improve their grades.
Gioia Barconey doesn't need music to make her study. She wants to be a pediatrician. For her, music has healing powers. Alonzo Cyprian finds peace when he plays.
"It calms me down when I'm feeling sad or mad and stuff," he said. "It isn't hard, but it's serious business when you play."
It is serious business, for children whose lives and homes and families were devastated by the storm. Batiste says that all the students in his band were affected by Katrina.
"These music programs give kids hope in the city," Taylor said. "They save lives. These instruments save lives in New Orleans. This is what keeps our kids focused, makes them proud of their heritage. When they pick up a trumpet, they're walking in the footsteps of Louis Armstrong."
And in the footsteps of Fats Domino, a living legend whose own home was nearly destroyed by Katrina's waters. This past May, Fats made a rare public appearance at Tipitina's. In return, the foundation is helping Fats rebuild his house in the battered Ninth Ward.
"Tipitina's already did wonderful things for everybody," he said. "I want to thank them!"
Later this month, Tipitina's will release a tribute to Fats Domino to raise more money to continue the relief effort. It is a collection of Fats' greatest hits, recorded by an impressive list of the musicians he inspired, from Paul McCartney to Randy Newman.
"There's no city like New Orleans. Whether it can stay the same is a question," Newman said. "You know, it really took a hit."
This week, on the second anniversary of that terrible day, some of New Orleans' high-stepping high school bands gathered outside Tipitina's - to march, dance and blow on their shiny new horns. There is still a long way to go to be sure, but, thanks to the Tipitina's Foundation, music is beginning to flow again, from the schools and into the streets of New Orleans.
"There's so much more to be done, but I'm telling you, without music, without hearing music in the streets, you have a different city," Taylor said. "And it's not a city I want to be in."