By Carmen Smith, Senior Vice President, Creative Development – Product/Content & Inclusive Strategies
Our Imagineering project team continues to draw inspiration from the city of New Orleans for the upcoming attraction, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. On our most recent trip to New Orleans, fellow Imagineers John Dennis, Charita Carter, Ted Robledo and I were a part of ongoing recording sessions for the attraction’s music. Today, we’re thrilled to announce that we are collaborating with award-winning artists PJ Morton and Terence Blanchard on the music guests will hear as part of this adventure. Both natives of New Orleans, PJ and Terence will help us score a lyrical love letter to the region that first inspired our endeavor with Princess Tiana. We’ll have more to share down the road as our teams make progress on a new original song composed by PJ Morton and new renditions of fan favorite music from the Walt Disney Animation Studios hit film, “The Princess and the Frog.”
Both PJ and Terence are well decorated across music genres with four-time Grammy-winner PJ recently celebrating six straight years of Grammy nominations as an independent artist and Terence having won seven Grammy awards for his own discography and trumpeting expertise. Terence also played all of Louis the Alligator’s trumpet parts in “The Princess and the Frog,” so you can only imagine how delighted we were that he was returning to work on this project. As a token of our gratitude, we presented them both with artist interpretations featuring each musician with a critter guests will meet on Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.
PJ Morton is writing, arranging and producing the original song for the attraction. He is performing on and producing the sessions in New Orleans of all-new arrangements of the song, as well as songs from “The Princess and the Frog” within the attraction. On the trip, we had the pleasure to discuss our collaboration with him at the historic Preservation Hall.
Terence Blanchard is helming music arrangement for the attraction’s queue. Terence is working with us to select songs from “The Princess and the Frog,” as well as iconic themes from New Orleans. Just like Tiana’s recipes, the music will combine a medley of instrumental ingredients to cook up something worth savoring.
The music will borrow from several musical styles that either originated or took up permanent residence in New Orleans. Some of our brand-new Audio-Animatronics figures will bring the invigorating sounds of New Orleans to life. Take this new rendering of Prince Naveen’s brother, Ralphie, for example. It’s a scene you commonly see in New Orleans: the joie de vivre influencing his every movement as he jams to the beat of his songful soul. Or this band of friendly critters playing joyful Zydeco-style music.
With the power of New Orleans music, we’ve made it a priority to properly represent all aspects of the city’s culture throughout the attraction. This is why we’ve leaned on so many local voices to help bring Tiana’s story to life.
While in New Orleans, we made a stop at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant — founder Leah Chase was one of the inspirations for Princess Tiana — to talk about Tiana’s impact over the past decade and the special connection we have made with the Chase family. We have learned so much about the essence of New Orleans from them. We sat down with Stella Chase Reese, Leah’s daughter, who shared that “if we have children and grown people coming here because of Tiana, they’re not coming here just because of Tiana’s restaurant and the food, it’s the value, it’s what she meant to them. Dream big and you can make it happen.”
Imagineers often dive deep into projects to help inspire their work. We commissioned four pieces from New Orleans artist, Sharika Mahdi, to aid our creative process by adding a local’s perspective. On the trip, we visited Sharika to see her final commissioned piece for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure in person. At her renowned alma mater YAYA (Young Aspirations Young Artists) Arts Center, Sharika walked us through this beautiful painting which serves as a compilation of Tiana’s story and emphasizes the importance of family, food and of course, music. This piece isn’t a particular moment or scene from the attraction, but rather an inspirational piece about the key theme of family in Tiana’s story.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Sharika paints with a colorful and free-flowing style. Sharika’s pieces for our project have featured Tiana and friends, a jazz club scene joined by a band of frogs and even Mama Odie and her “seeing eye snake,” Juju.
We were all so grateful to be able to experience the beauty of the city of New Orleans. For now, the project team is back at our Imagineering campus, continuing to make progress on a project we have such great pride and passion for. Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opens at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort next year. Looking forward to seeing you there!