t will be a bittersweet night for former New Orleans resident Joseph deSpenza.  The Manning House in Tucson is a long way from Bourbon Street, but that is where Joseph and his band, “New Orleans Blues Exodus,” will be celebrating Mardi Gras this year.  deSpenza is one of two featured performers for the 1st Annual Mardi Gras Celebration, a benefit for the Community Food Bank.The event will be held at the Manning House on Saturday, January 27th  from 6:30 to 10:30pm.  It will feature New Orleans style food, Mardi Gras parades, a costume contest, and, of course, the music.  All proceeds will go to help hungry people in Southern Arizona.

For deSpenza, a Katrina evacuee, his trek to Tucson began after being stranded in his 11th floor New Orleans apartment.  After 8 days and clutching his saxophone, he was plucked from the rooftop by a helicopter and flown to an evacuation center at the New Orleans airport.  He didn’t know he was coming to Tucson until an announcement was made on the flight out of  New Orleans.  It turned out to be a “great ride,” says deSpenza, “I don’t believe I was alive until I got here; being in Tucson has turned out to be a dream come true.”  deSpenza said he had a chance to return to his New Orleans apartment, but turned it down.  Since his arrival he put together a group of five musicians who play “rhythm and blues;” music from the 40’s and 50’s.

In addition to deSpenza’s group, the gala will feature “Jazzwerx,” a group made up of University of Arizona students.  “Jazzwerx” is directed by world class professional musician Brice Winston who lived and worked in New Orleans for 16 years.

The Mardi Gras fund raiser is the idea of Jennifer Casteix, a member of the Community Food Bank Board of Directors, and whose grandparents were married in New Orleans.  Ms. Casteix is hopeful the event will become the Food Bank’s signature event.