Allen Toussaint, the acclaimed New Orleans icon, producer and musician has passed away of an apparent heart attack at 77 following a show in Madrid, Spain. His daughter confirmed his passing to the New York Times.
“Any time I heard a piano playing on the radio, I thought all piano players knew that except me,” Toussaint told Blues Scene in an interview several weeks ago. “I felt in a hurry to grab everything I could, even some of the classics. It’s no small feat to learn the classics by ear.”
He played piano from a young age in a working-class New Orleans neighborhood, beginning his career in his teens in the 1950s Orleans music scene. In 1960, he was the house producer, arranger and songwriter for the Minit label, cranking out New Orleans hits like Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother in Law,” Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya” and Jessie Hill’s “Ooh Poo Pah Doo,” all of which continue to be New Orleans staples.
His reputation as an in-demand producer and songwriter grew. In 1962, he released “Fortune Teller”, which was quickly covered by The Rolling Stones. He opened his own studio, Sea Saint, in New Orleans in 1973, which cranked out
Recently, Toussaint appeared as himself in the hit HBO series Treme, a show set in post-Katrina New Orleans that chronicles the lives of those working to rebuild the cultural life of the city, a culture he is often associated with.
“[After Katrina,] I migrated to New York. Since we had martial law, I had to leave,” he explained about leaving and returning to New Orleans. “Elvis Costello and I had communicated and done a couple of things before then, so we were both in New York at the same time. It was time for benefits, and we did several. The byproduct of that is I’m here today. If it wasn’t for us getting together and doing those projects, I’d have stayed in my comfort zone in the studio.”
In a town known worldwide for its music, Toussaint’s name was among the rarified cultural bastions of the city, along with James Booker, Professor Longhair, Dr. John and Louis Armstrong. His passing will leave a hole in the heart of the city, though the music he created for most of his life will continue to influence and entertain international ears forever.