Alumni Spotlights

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Jan Ramsey, OffBeat, Publisher, Editor-In-Chief; Ranter of New Orleans Music and Culture Magazine and publisher of the Louisiana Music Directory. Music activist and continuing pot-stirrer.

The University of New Orleans reflects the city in which it resides, that of perseverance and determination. Its student base and alumni are comprised of individuals from all walks of life who are dedicated to bettering themselves through education and community impact. Alumna Jan Ramsey (HRT' ’80) has, for the last twenty three years, changed the national perception of New Orleans music as the founder of offBeat magazine. Through her efforts, the influence of the music industry on the New Orleans economy has become more apparent, as such truths were not always the common perception, and when Ramsey pressed the first edition of offBeat in 1988, the industry’s impact as a whole was unacknowledged for its economic significance. After seeing an article in The Times Picayune, which, at the time did not even have a dedicated music writer, bemoaning the lack of music industry in a city known for cultivating musicians, Ramsey felt her call to action.

“It became an avocation for me to help develop the music business. It occurred to me that the best way for me to make an impact on music was through media. I wasn’t thinking about it as a business. I was thinking that this was just something that I could do by force of will. I didn’t understand the scope of the project.”

With a strong business background and a passion for music, Ramsey found her first major outlet for publicizing the industry she championed through contacts of hers involved in staging the Republican National Convention, scheduled that year to convene in New Orleans. Ramsey’s goal was to showcase the local music scene, building its legitimacy on a national stage through publication, but as her aspirations came into focus, so did the magnitude of her undertaking. Her first partner abandoned the project midway through its start up, leaving her to creatively contribute to solutions, and not focus on problems. Such persistence is what New Orleanians know best. Sometimes, when they water starts to rise, the only place a person can go is up, and Ramsey, true to her roots, climbed higher and higher the ladder of hard work towards her success.

“I had no investors. I had no capital, but I kept it going. I was so passionate about what I was doing. I had promised the RNC people that I would get 15,000 copies of this magazine to them and I had no idea what I was doing, but managed to pull it off. The stuff that I did, I couldn’t imagine doing today. We had eight page gaps and were desperate for content, but we managed to pull it off.”

Ramsey will be the first to tell you that her success was not all luck, nor was it simple divine intervention that allowed for deadlines to be met and revenue to flow in. She is proud of the work that she has put in, and credits her success to the foundation provided to her as a student at UNO. Most UNO students do not always fit the classic college student mold. They work; they marry; they divorce; they transfer, but are nevertheless committed to obtaining higher education. In fact, all of these attributes can be ascribed to Ramsey. When she finally made up her mind to buckle down and complete her degree at the age of twenty seven, she had already attended three universities in two states. Changing majors from fine arts to business, Ramsey struggled to find balance in completing her studies while being a single mother. 

Her life would ultimately be defined late one night while returning home from an internship. Ramsey, while driving on the interstate, was hit head on, causing her severe injury that nearly killed her. The proximity of her accident to East Jefferson Hospital saved her life, and Ramsey would consequently be forced to undergoing rehab that would help her to walk again throughout the next six months. Through it all, the fire for her self-improvement through education still burned inside her, and she returned to UNO battered and still slightly broken.

“I was bound and determined to get my degree. I could barely move, but I took all the courses needed to finish. At the end of that semester, I found myself hindered in trying to find a job because I could barely get around. I was handicapped. I was walking on crutches. What I needed was more recovery time. Ed Nebel, one of the founders of the HRT program at UNO, really took care of me. I was a really good student, at the top of my class, but was really struggling.”

Nebel and others on the UNO faculty recognized Ramsey’s needs and helped her in acquiring a full-tuition scholarship at Florida International University in Miami, where she would go on to earn her master’s degree, as well as recommended her for a job at a prestigious CPA firm that did consulting work in the hospitality business. It was this work that would eventually bring her back to New Orleans and into the media, as Ramsey discovered her aptitude to be in marketing and communications, and put these talents to use promoting the New Orleans music industry while developing the business savvy of local musicians.

“There is a lot bigger awareness now on how musicians need to take care of themselves. Back when I was first getting involved in this, there were only one or two attorneys in the city who specialized in copywriting. Educational opportunities have now become institutionalized at the universities, which is where they should be. There has to be a steady diet of educational information for them to respond to it, things like how to make a press kit. I mean, I was starting before the internet, understand? It occurred to me that musicians are entrepreneurs, their small businesses, but a lot of them don’t think of themselves that way. They’re artists. Unless you’re careful, you can contractually get involved in a bad situation. One of the things that drove me in the beginning was to help educate musicians on how to take care of themselves in that way.”

Ramsey, through her efforts, has helped change the perception of New Orleans music. “I don’t think that we did it, that offBeat did it, but we were sort of a starting point to help continually draw attention to music and culture.” While Ramsey is humble in the accomplishments of offBeat, based in its modest offices off Frenchmen Street, adorned with the images of New Orleans musical icons, she is also proud of the local scene writers who have found wider audiences after being first published through the magazine, and in the fact that she has accomplished it all while maintaining her integrity as a publisher passionate about music more than selling advertisements. 

“I thought that UNO did an exceptional job with my education, and I’m proud of the fact that I went there. The older you get, the more you are cognizant of what you are good at and what you aren’t good at. You find out that what you learn in school was actually relevant. A lot of people don’t get that while they’re in school, but you actually end up using this stuff. I think that being organized, and to be goal oriented were the most relevant lessons UNO taught me.”

  Interview and article by Adam Preveau Williams (Creative Writing 2011) May 2011
as part of Johanna Schindler Memorial News & Media Internship.

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