Donor Spotlight: Adelaide Wisdom Benjamin
Education: Louise S. McGehee School; B.A. in English, Hollins University; J.D., Tulane University
Top reasons to support the LPO:
Favorite books: Non-fiction, particularly pertaining to WWII; and mysteries, particularly those set in the Medieval Ages
Other boards on which she serves: Louise S. McGehee School, Loyola University, and New Orleans Opera
Like many others in New Orleans, Adelaide Wisdom Benjamin has spent a lifetime devoted to the city. Her grandfather, A. B. Freeman, moved here in 1906 with only $1.35 in his pocket when Benjamin’s mother was a baby. To support his family, Freeman began selling Coca-Cola off the back of a wagon. Armed with the determination to support his family, he eventually worked his way to become president of the Louisiana Coca-Cola Bottling Co.
Having spent the majority of her life in New Orleans, Benjamin is committed to investing in the city because “New Orleans needs it too badly” to give anywhere else. Benjamin has always had an affinity for the orchestra with early interest stemming from her love of music as well as her parents’ involvement. In fact, her mother and father were two of the six original founders of the New Orleans Civic Symphony in 1936. She and her family have supported the orchestra under its various names and operations for almost 80 years.
When Benjamin saw the headline “Symphony to Close” in the newspaper in 1982, she immediately called to offer her services. She had loved music all her life and did not want to live in a city without a symphony. Benjamin immediately began her term as board president and rejuvenated hope in the future of the orchestra.
Though 1982 was a “sorry time” in New Orleans, with an economic climate similar to that of the Great Depression, New Orleanians stayed true to the community support, strength, and faith that are part of the fabric of city life and gave to the orchestra in any way they could. Benjamin was moved by the support of the public and its dedication to the orchestra and, in turn, did her best to reassure the public that its efforts would not go to waste. Benjamin proved her dedication many times, and once, when television news crews showed up unannounced at her home upon hearing that the bank was planning to foreclose on the orchestra’s loan, even appeared on the news in only her pajamas, raincoat and lipstick to reassure New Orleans that the orchestra would continue to play no matter what it took.
Benjamin has been one of the orchestra’s strongest advocates over the years. From serving five years as board president, as well as interim executive director when necessary, and eliminating $3.5 million in debt, to her continued support of the orchestra, Benjamin has repeatedly proved her dedication to maintaining orchestral music as part of the cultural life of the New Orleans area and the Gulf South.
Of all the ways Benjamin has supported the orchestra, one contribution she believes had a great impact on the cultural life of the city was supporting musicians' medical insurance in the late 1980s when the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra, transitioning into our beloved LPO, could not support musicians' salaries. Though not her original intention, this effort kept many musicians in New Orleans, so they were ready to play as soon as the orchestra’s business affairs were back in order.
Benjamin remains proud of and committed to the orchestra. She, like many other musicians and supporters throughout the city, recognizes that the LPO and its outstanding musicians maintain a paragon of excellence comparable to any other major national orchestra and lead efforts to contribute to the cultural and educational vibrancy of New Orleans and beyond.