Louisiana Music Commission
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Note: Much of this article appeared in the Fall issue of New Orleans Vignette Magazine 1997 and is based on a bio written by Steve Picou.
This article was updated in February 1999.
Two of the streets bounding the block in the Gentilly neighborhood in which New Orleans television personality and Executive Director of the Louisiana Music Commission (LMC) Bernie Cyrus was raised are named Arts and Music. Nearby is the Milne Boys Home, a collection of large antebellum-style white-columned buildings that then housed orphans and wayward youth. Perhaps these surroundings influenced Bernie as a youngster, for his childhood followed a path rich in music and punctuated with pranks and trouble- making. Bernie's reputation as a troublesome youth was his first claim to fame. He was bounded from one school to another so that by high school graduation he was able to brag that he had attended a different school for each year.
Bernie's checkered school career transformed in high school, however. His achievements allowed him to skip eleventh grade, and his senior year at Marian Abramson High was marked by honors and awards. He was elected to vice president of the student government association, was voted "Most Popular" by his classmates, and received the Gentilly Rotary Club "Outstanding Student" award.
Surrounded by both music and politics, it was inevitable that he try his hand at both. Music came first "I organized and performed music first for the Catholic church, folk masses. My first sold-out shows!" Cyrus exclaims. "Then in high school I formed my first rock band." And thus developed his second claim to fame: singer and impresario.
By his sophomore year in high school, Cyrus' life would begin to gravitate toward his other love--politics. "It turned my life around," he says. "I got into organizing people to work for candidates and issues and learned that I had a talent for bringing people together." He went on to form the Young Progressive Democrats, an organization that is still active, during his first year at college and was twice elected to the Democratic State Central Committee. While at the University of New Orleans he further honed both his musical and political skills, fronting a rock band as the singer, lobbying successfully to change the name of the school to UNO from LSUNO and for the construction of the UNO Lakefront Arena, named for the late Nat Kiefer, his political mentor. He also served as Business Manager of the school newspaper and Chief of Staff of the UNO Student Government Association. During his tenure the Driftwood won an All-American College Paper award.
Prior to his graduation, Bernie also had the privilege of serving for a year as a public relations consultant for Bundini Enterprises, Mohammed Ali's personal management company. He also served as an adviser and worked personally with (former astronaut) Senator John Glen during his presidential campaign. After graduating from UNO, Bernie spent a year as a teacher and four years as a Project Director for the Louisiana Department of Education. During that time he created and supervised after school reading and math programs and served as an award-winning director of the New Orleans Recreation Department's Summer Camp program.
Bernie then pursued three failed bids (both were close races that he lost by less than 100 votes) for major political offices and was elected to two terms on the state Democratic Central Committee. Briefly, he settled down to life in the workaday world as a telecommunications sales manager. Then in 1992 he got the call that changed his life. Governor Edwin Edwards asked him to help assemble appointees to the Louisiana Music Commission and to serve as its Executive Director. "I called Ellis Marsalis (patriarch of America's First Family of Jazz and a noted music educator) expecting to be turned down, and to my surprise he accepted the Chairmanship," Bernie noted. "And so did Art Neville, David Torkanowsky, Jean Knight and everyone I asked." It was the beginning of a new phase in Bernie's life and in the history of the LMC. Since assuming the role of Executive Director, Bernie has been responsible for generating more press coverage of the LMC than ever before, with more than 100 stories in print since 1992. The LMC has been featured in such venerable journals as the Washington Post, London Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Orlando Sentinel, San Diego Union Tribune, Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Down Beat and four features in the music industry's leading magazine, Billboard.
Knowing that the biggest obstacle musicians face is securing airplay on radio and television, Bernie went straight to the heart of the matter and began hosting the Louisiana Homegrown Music Show on local FM powerhouse 92.3 WCKW. Bernie called upon his wealth of musician-friends to make the show a must-listen in its Sunday night time slot. Over a two year period he featured hundreds of guests in the studio and gave many now-successful artists their first commercial airplay. However, he still felt something more needed to be done.
Seizing an opportunity to start a new cable television show in partnership with Cox Communications, LTV (an acronym for Louisiana music Television) was born. Bernie co-created, co-produced, booked and hosted a live, weekly, one hour show featuring three musical acts performing live in the studio per show, along with videos, interviews and an occasional comedy skit. In its first season, LTV garnered press in Billboard magazine and in its second year was nominated for a prestigious national Cable Ace award.
In just three years, Bernie Cyrus was responsible for giving more Louisiana artists exposure on both commercial radio and television than anyone in the state's history. It has proven to be his next claim to fame and his legacy, producing hundreds of hours of historical live footage of more than 200 of Louisiana's great musical acts, including many who have since passed away.
However, the limited audience of cable television began to lose its attraction to Bernie after a few years. He wanted to access the vast number of viewers that broadcast television reaches. With the help of a close friend, Nick Chetta, he approached all the local television stations in New Orleans, attempting to sell the concept of a quality local production with syndication possibilities. NBC affiliate WDSU liked what they heard and offered a choice time slot--right alter Saturday Night Live. Thus New Orleans After Midnight was born.
Now in its fourth season, New Orleans After Midnight has become a staple of Saturday night viewers. Ratings indicate that on average, more than 30,000 households (or approximately 78,000 viewers) are tuned to the show each week, a larger audience than many local newscasts and the highest-rated locally produced non-news show on the air in the New Orleans market.
With ratings for the show causing local Times-Picayune tv columnist Mark Lorando to gush that New Orleans After Midnight "has struck Nielsen gold," the future looks brighter than ever for Louisiana music on television. The show was also featured in the 1998 NATPE issue of Electronic Media magazine. In 1997 he added to his production credits when he produced a Christmas special for Fox 8 television that featured Allen Toussaint, Ellis Marsalis, James Andrews and many other great New Orleans musicians which raised funds for the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts.
As his tenure as executive director of the Louisiana Music Commission and television personality and producer marches on, you can be sure that Bernie Cyrus will continue to find new ways to bring the wealth of musical talent in Louisiana to the world's television audience.
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