Allen Toussaint (1938-2015)
New Orleans Legend Passes
I was one of many people across the world who felt shocked then saddened by the death of Alan Toussaint. Mr. Toussaint’s contribution to the arts is legendary and well recognized within the musical industry. His works traverse multiple generations with versatile arrangements in R&B, jazz and beyond. Truly an American icon and cultural figure, Toussaint’s talents include musician/pianist, songwriter and producer. Far beyond the bounds of his native New Orleans, Mr. Toussaint will be remembered in continuum across the globe for his exceptional creativity, unique musical styling and generosity of spirit.
In the Beginning
For many his music and influence was the sound track of their lives, taking them back to the days and places when they first heard his music, emblematic of the sounds and flavors of New Orleans.
Raised in New Orleans’ Gert Town neighborhood, born in 1938, Mr. Toussaint was playing the piano at age 6 with his first musical influences being his father and mother, Clarence Toussaint and Naomi Neville (whose name he later used as a songwriting pseudonym).
It was his sister who first taught him to read music; their front room of their house on College Court was the practice room and recording studio, then later he was performing with neighborhood bands. He dropped out of high school to favor a career in music. Mr. Toussaint enjoyed great success as a producer; in 1958 his song “Java” was released by New Orleans trumpeter Al Hirt which won a Grammy. His piano styling was unmistakable clearly in the line with the linage of New Orleans influences of Professor Longhair.
From the 1950s, his influence and work can be heard from the likes of; Irma Thomas, Aaron Neville, Art Neville, Dr. John, the Meters, Paul McCartney, Joe Cocker and Glen Campbell to the late Ernie K-Doe, Chris Kenner, Lee Dorsey, Jessie Hill, Benny Spellman and Al Hirt, to name but a few.
“I was always a little reluctant about the audience thing. When I think about it, I guess whatever ‘shy” means, it covers a part of me.”
In 1963-1965 his US Army service was front and center put his music on hold. When he returned, he formed Sansu, a production company, in which the Meters served as the house band. Although he turned out hits for many as an acclaimed songwriter, arranger and producer, Mr. Toussaint didn’t have much of interest performing himself.
"I prefer writing for artists than writing for myself. I get more inspiration from artists, from other people, than I do myself,"
~Allen Toussaint in a 1998 WWL-TV interview with Hoda Kotb
"His greatest contribution was in not allowing the city's old-school R&B traditions to die out but by keeping pace with developments in the rapidly evolving worlds of soul and funk. In addition, he brought the New Orleans sound to the national stage, and it remains a vital and ongoing part of our musical heritage to this day,"
~ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted Toussaint as a member in 1998.
Some Honors and Awards
He was nominated for a Grammy award and in 2013, was honored with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor given to an American artist.
Toussaint performed at the White House four times and though he never won a Grammy, he was nominated six times and presented with a Grammy Trustees Award in 2009. In 2013, he was named an honorary doctor of fine arts by Tulane University, alongside Dr. John and the Dalai Lama. He was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Blues Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. He performed annually at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and was the artist featured on the festival poster in 2009.
"Everyday life is inspirational, if you're just open to it and enjoy the scenes and the interaction of people as they interact with each other. There are new things being performed every day if you just look around and enjoy what's happening, you'll never run out of inspiration,"
Toussaint is survived by his two children, including his son Clarence, known as Reginald, and his daughter, Alison, both of whom managed his career in recent years. He is also survived by several grandchildren.
New Orleans music legend Allen Toussaint became the eighth musician to get a lifesize bronze statue in a park on Bourbon Street dedicated to the city's musical greats.
Toussaint was on tour in Spain and died after performing Tuesday, November 10, 2015, will be great missed, proudly remembered, looked up to for generations to come.
His funeral was on Friday, November 20, 2015 at the newly renovated Orpheum Theater.
Mr. Toussiant was an extremely private person, humbled and soft spoken gentleman, but at the same time a public figure who reveled in his countless interactions with strangers. Over the years, he had discussed plans for his funeral with his son, Reggie Toussaint said Friday that his father did not want a spectacle, or even a second-line parade.
To that end, his casket was closed. Saturday’s burial will be private, and Friday’s program, like its honoree, was elegant, restrained and finely arranged, just like his music.
As funeral director D. Joan Phodes said, "the casket was a red-brown mahogany, the “Masterpiece” model, used to bury presidents and other dignitaries." Flanking it was a framed American flag, honoring Toussaint’s Army service in the 1960s. A floral arrangement with a treble clef of white poms adorned atop and a miniature piano covered by white flowers stood near the podium.
After the service, Orleans Parish sheriff’s deputies cleared a path to allow the funeral home vehicles to pull away. Reggie Toussaint rode in the front passenger seat of his father’s well known blue Rolls-Royce convertible, with license plate reading “Songs.”
Deputies halted traffic on Canal Street so the procession could drive away from the spectacle. The street party, like Toussaint’s songs, lived on without him.
He was 77, leaving a body of work that transcends time, touching countless lives through his music and friendship, showing through his actions that persistence, passion, humility can achieve a greatness that goes far beyond
Additional Words by Those Who Knew Him
“I want to first thank him for believing in me during my early days of singing. He produced my first recordings back in 1960 to 1964, on Minit Records. Later, in 1972, he recorded me again with songs like ‘The Greatest Love’ and ‘Hercules.’ He was an icon in the music business.”
Aaron Neville on Facebook
"Todays News broke my heart, it is a real shock. When I played with AT at this years Blues & BBQ I told him I needed him to help me with some music that I have run into a brick wall with, he smiled and said send it to me. I got busy and did not send it, I always thought there was time, Allen seemed so happy and healthy. So sudden it is hard to believe. Thank You Allen Toussaint for the music that you gave me a chance to play with you, as well as the music that I have come to play because of what I learned from seeing up front and close how you could get the best out of an artist."
~ Goerge Porter, Jr. part of his words on Facebook
"Mr. Toussaint was and will continue to be an inspiration. He never stopped searching and learning. He was curious. Always asking questions. He would smile like a child when he discovered something new. A new song, a new band, a new chord change, a new arrangement, a new voicing."