New Orleans is like a secret garden, a place where regeneration and rebirth is the norm. And in New Orleans, maybe its most secret garden is Algiers, right across the Mississippi River. Singer Susan Cowsill, who lives in the quirky neighborhood with her husband, Russ Broussard, and daughter, Miranda, this so.
Cowsill’s home is happy and relaxed, with neighbors dropping by for wine and stray cats making their presence known. It’s the kind of place where someone as closely identified with the 1960s as Cowsill is would call home. But it also has a post-Katrina feel, with a strong contrast between the lots of new stuff and the old that recalls the toll the storm took. In Cowsill’s case, that toll was deeply personal.
A navy kid with five brothers, Cowsill was the youngest member of the 1960s-pop band, the Cowsills, one of rock’s first family bands and the inspiration for the Partridge Family. After a series of hits, the band broke up in 1972, but not until young Susan had sang with Dean Martin and dances with Buddy Ebsen. Occasional re-uniting with her brothers during the next two decades, Susan honed her guitar and songwriting skills, mostly while living in Los Angeles. As a member of the roots band the Continental Drifters, she moved to New Orleans when the band relocated there in 1993. She explains, “I was pregnant at the time, just loaded a U-Haul and moved east. It felt like the Grapes of Wrath in reverse.”
Intending to stay only a couple of years, Cowsill developed an affinity for her new hometown, saying, “After L.A., where no one has any roots, this place feels so secure.” She had flourished with a variety of musical identities, playing with a reunited Cowsills, her own band, and Paul Sanchez’s Rollin’ Road Show. In 2003, she married Russ Broussard, one of the city’s best drummers. Hurricane Katrina destroyed everything in their Mid-City home, and they drifted for four months before deciding to return. They moved back in January 2006 when Susan confronted the storm’s real horror. Her brother Barry had not evacuated. After a series of voicemails from him right after Katrina, suddenly she heard nothing more. His body was discovered in the river on the day after she returned, the exact circumstances of his death unknown. Susan is convinced that he committed suicide after a deeply troubled life.
Even with these struggles, Cowsill remains optimistic, a vital part of the resurgent New Orleans music scene post-storm. As she told the Huffington Post, Hurricane Katrina was a ‘muse and metaphor for life. Yes, all these terrible things can happen, but you can still be a happy person.”