Louisiana's Legendary Musicians: A Select List -
New Orleans

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New Orleans

Louis Armstrong

Jazz [1901- 1970]
Regarded as one the 20th century's great artistic figures, Armstrong was a brilliant, inventive soloist whose ideas have influenced popular music of all sorts for years to come and continue to do so. Born in New Orleans, he began his career in the band of fellow cornetist Joe "King" Oliver. (The cornet is similar to the trumpet, with slight differences in design and tone; Armstrong was equally adept on both instruments.) In the mid-1920s Armstrong struck out on his own, making two historic series of recordings known as The Hot Fives and The Hot Sevens. By the 1950s, following an active career and numerous appearances in films, Armstrong was perceived as a mainstream entertainer. This facet of his work, reflected by such hits as "Hello, Dolly," hurt his reputation in some jazz circles at the time, but the true depth of Armstrong's accomplishments is now universally acknowledged.

American Routes/Browse by Artist (audio). Armstrong discusses his own efforts to document his life, marijuana, and his music.

The Red Hot Jazz Archive/Louis Armstrong (audio)

The Red Hot Jazz Archive/Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five (audio)

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame / Louis Armstrong

Sidney Bechet

Jazz [1987 - 1959]
Equally accomplished on the clarinet and soprano saxophone, Sidney Bechet was one of the first great jazz soloists. Like his contemporaries Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dodds, and Jelly Roll Morton, Bechet helped define the classic New Orleans style. Feeling that career opportunities were limited in the U.S., Bechet moved to France and spent his last years there, recording such hits as "Les Oignons." Today his influential contributions to jazz are more fully appreciated.

The Red Hot Jazz Archives / Sidney Bechet (audio)

National Public Radio / Jazz Profiles / Sidney Bechet

Theodore Emile "Bo" Dollis / Joseph Pierre "Monk" Boudreaux

Mardi Gras Indian [Bo Dollis 1944 - ], [Monk Boudreaux 1941 - ]

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Vocalists Bo Dollis and Monk Boudreaux represent New Orleans' Mardi Gras "Indian" tradition. They are not Native Americans, however; these "Indians" are groups of African-American men who parade, chant and drum on Mardi Gras Day, dressed in elaborate hand-sewn costumes with beadwork and plumes. The intricate designs of these costumes often depict Native American garb. There is considerable debate about the origins of this tradition, which is also found throughout the Caribbean. There are many "tribes" in New Orleans; Dollis is the "Big Chief" of the Wild Magnolias, while Boudreaux is "Big Chief" of the Golden Eagles; these are positions of stature and cultural responsibility. Dollis and Boudreaux are unique among Mardi Gras "Indians" because they have blended their chants with popular music and enjoyed commercial success.

American Routes / Browse by Artist (audio). Look up these artists by the first letter of their last names.

Antoine "Fats" Domino

Rhythm & Blues [1928 - ]
A true icon and founding father in the overlapping genres of rock & roll and rhythm & blues, Fats Domino began making records in 1949. His powerful piano style draws on classic blues and boogie woogie, and he sings with a thick New Orleans accent. Along with Chuck Berry and Little Richard, Fats Domino was one of the first African-American musicians to be accepted by white fans of the then-new rock genre. Domino went on to become one of the most successful recording artists of all time, thanks to such hits as "I'm Walking," "Blue Monday," and "Ain't That A Shame" - yet he has never moved away from the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, and has never made any concessions to passing musical trends. Today, over fifty years later, Domino is still in peak form, and his distinctive sound remains gloriously unchanged.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame / Fats Domino

History of Rock / Fats Domino

Pete Fountain

Jazz (1930 - )
Fountain is a leading practitioner of the dixieland school of New Orleans jazz, a style that combines traditional concepts with mainstream popular music. He was influenced by such prominent fellow clarinetists as Sidney Bechet and Benny Goodman. Fountain rose to national prominence with weekly television appearances on The Lawrence Welk Show in the late 1950s. Still active and energetic, Fountain is a popular figure in New Orleans where he performs frequently at his own nightclub.

A Closer Talk with Pete Fountain

Mahalia Jackson

Gospel [1911 - 1972]
A singer with great physical power and spiritual passion, Mahalia Jackson made some of gospel music's most definitive and successful recordings, including the original composition "Move On Up A Little Higher." Besides delighting listeners within the gospel community, Jackson brought African-American religious music to a broad new audience world-wide. Jackson refused to sing overtly secular material, reflecting a prevailing attitude with the gospel-music community towards "the Devil's music" - but she did embrace such songs as "You'll Never Walk Alone" that she perceived as containing a spiritual message. Jackson also performed in such secular settings as the Newport Jazz Festival and the inauguration of President Kennedy. A native of New Orleans, Jackson appeared at the first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1970.

American Routes / Browse by Artist (audio).

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame / Mahalia Jackson

Ernie K-Doe

Rhythm & Blues [1936 - 2001]

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New Orleans rhythm & blues singer Ernie K-Doe is best known for recording "Mother-In-Law," which was a national number-one hit in 1961. Several of his other records, including "Hello, My Lover," "T'aint It The Truth," and "A Certain Girl," were regional hits in the Gulf South and remain perennial favorites. During the 1980s K-Doe hosted a radio show on WWOZ-FM in New Orleans and gained a cult following as an eccentric cultural icon. Such recognition increased dramatically during the last five years of his life, as K-Doe became known as "the Emperor of the World" and reigned as the king of a Mardi Gras parade. His widow, Antoinette K-Doe, continues to operate the Mother-In-Law Lounge as a shrine to her husband and a meeting place for New Orleans' musical community.

American Routes / Browse by Artist (audio).

Professor Longhair

Rhythm & blues [1918 - 1980]
The late Henry Roeland Byrd, a.k.a. Professor Longhair, was one of the most unique stylists in New Orleans rhythm & blues. His piano style combined mainstream blues and boogie woogie with the Afro-Caribbean rhumba rhythms. This stylistic blend and Byrd's unorthodox way of playing, singing (and whistling) enlivened such songs as "Tipitina," "In The Night," "Big Chief" and "Mardi Gras In New Orleans." These songs became unofficial anthems of a cultural renaissance that swept New Orleans during the 1970s. In addition, Byrd was a major influence on the next generation of rhythm & blues pianists, including Dr. John, James Booker, Allen Toussaint, and Art Neville.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame / Professor Longhair

The Marsalis Family

Jazz [Branford Marsalis 1960 - ], [Delfeayo Marsalis 1965 - ], [Ellis Marsalis 1934 - ], [Jason Marsalis 1977 - ], [Wynton Marsalis 1961 -]
For four decades, the Marsalis family has been an important force in contemporary New Orleans jazz. Patriarch and pianist Ellis Marsalis was a co-founder of A.F.O. (All For One) Records, one of America's first independent, black-owned record companies. A prolific recording artist, as both a bandleader and accompanist, Ellis Marsalis is also an eminent jazz educator; he is currently affiliated with the Jazz Studies program at the University of New Orleans. His sons include trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who has won Grammy awards in both jazz and classical music, and who is the Artistic director for Jazz at Lincoln Center; the acclaimed saxophonist Branford Marsalis; trombonist and producer Delfeayo Marsalis; and drummer Jason Marsalis.

American Routes / Browse by Artist (audio): Look up these artists with the first letter of their last name.

Jelly Roll Morton

Jazz [1980 - 1940]
Although Morton did not single-handedly "invent" jazz, as he claimed, he was among its most important defining figures, as both an accomplished pianist and a prolific composer. In addition to the African and European concepts that jazz drew upon, Morton introduced what he called "the Spanish tinge"-Afro-Cuban rhythms that underscored Louisiana's connections with Caribbean culture. These diverse elements are all evident on such Morton compositions as "Shreveport Stomp," "Black Bottom Blues," "Wolverine Blues," and "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say," a song that refers to one of the very first documented New Orleans jazz musicians.

American Routes / Browse by Artist (audio).

Red Hot Jazz Archive / Jelly Roll Morton (audio)

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame / Jelly Roll Morton

Billie and DeDe Pierce

Jazz [Billie Pierce 1907 - 1974], [DeDe Pierce 1904 - 1973]

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Pianist Billie Pierce and her husband, trumpeter DeDe Pierce, performed and recorded in New Orleans from the 1930s until the early 1970s. Their traditional jazz and blues repertoire embraced Afro-Caribbean rhythms and Creole French lyrics, along with a wide variety of pop songs and standards that are also heard in many other American genres. As longtime leaders of their own group, the Pierces employed such renowned musicians as clarinetist George Lewis. In later years they toured the world as members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

De De Pierce at Preservation Hall / Photography by John Spragens

Billie Pierce at Preservation Hall / Photography by John Spragens

Arhoolie / Bille and De De Pierce

Irma Thomas

Rhythm & Blues [1941 - ]
A powerful singer who is known as the "Soul Queen of New Orleans," Thomas began making records in 1959 and has crafted some of the most popular signature songs of the rich New Orleans rhythm & blues tradition - including "It's Raining," "I Done Got Over," "Time Is On My Side," and "You Can Have My Husband, But Please Don't Mess With My Man." A Grammy nominee, Thomas maintains a high profile in New Orleans as a civic activist, and performs at her own nightclub, The Lion's Den, between national tours.

River of Song / Irma Thomas (audio, video)