Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Allen Toussaint, New Orleans R&B Musician, Dies at 77

Allen Toussaint, the versatile producer and songwriter who was a fixture of New Orleans R&B, died Monday after appearing in concert in Madrid. He was 77.

His daughter, Alison Toussaint-LeBeaux, confirmed his death in an email, and said the cause appeared to be a heart attack. El Mundo reported in Spain that Mr. Toussaint had collapsed at a hotel after the performance and was taken to a hospital.

He had been keeping a busy schedule, appearing in the United States and in Europe in recent weeks, with plans to perform in Belgium and Britain after his appearance in Spain. On Monday evening, fans who attended the performance at the Teatro Lara in Madrid posted video of Mr. Toussaint as he sat at a piano and sang.

“The @teatrolara is a Southern party thanks to the great Allen Toussaint,” a local music club wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Toussaint was born in 1938 in Gert Town, a humble, working-class neighborhood of New Orleans, where he taught himself piano. He began his career as a teenager in the 1950s, releasing his first album in 1958 under the name Tousan. In 1960, he became the house producer, arranger and songwriter for the Minit label, working on songs like Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother in Law,” Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya” and Jessie Hill’s “Ooh Poo Pah Doo.”

Throughout his career, Mr. Toussaint embodied the traditions of the New Orleans R&B scene, working as one of the city’s most prolific and influential songwriters and producers during the 1960s and 70s. Even in that fertile period of New Orleans music, Mr. Toussaint’s work stood out for its humor, jaunty style and arrangements with piano flourishes that showed the influence of Professor Longhair.

After a brief stint in the United States Army, Mr. Toussaint returned to music in 1965 and continued to work with a range of New Orleans musicians, including the early funk group the Meters. He co-founded Sea-Saint Studios in 1972, which attracted Paul Simon, Paul McCartney and others.
His songs would eventually be covered widely by other musicians, including “Java,” a hit for Al Hirt in 1964, and “Fortune Teller,” which became a standard among British Invasion rock bands in the mid-60s, recorded by the Who and the Rolling Stones, among others.

“I was so glad when the Stones recorded my song,” Mr. Toussaint once told an interviewer. “ I knew they would know how to roll it all the way to the bank.”

On Tuesday, the Rolling Stones posted the song on Twitter, with the message “RIP Allen Toussaint.” Other musicians, like Harry Shearer and Harry Connick Jr., also posted messages.
“We have lost a giant,” Mr. Shearer wrote.

In recent years, Mr. Toussaint continued to be a frequent and versatile collaborator, whether it was exploring his roots with New Orleans musicians or pairing with pop stars like Elvis Costello, with whom he recorded the album “The River in Reverse,” a response to Hurricane Katrina.

According to his website, Mr. Toussaint said his career was rebooted a decade ago when the storm forced him to move to New York, where he often performed alone at Joe’s Pub on Lafayette Street.

Mr. Toussaint would eventually return home, where he was a beloved local figure with an understated demeanor.

“I’m not accustomed to talking about myself,” he said, according to his website. “I talk in the studio with musicians. Or through my songs.”

This article originally appeared in the New York Times:
By Katie Rogers and Ben Sisariono - November 10, 2015

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