Allen Toussaint

Yet another towering figure in the music world is gone, as Allen Toussaint died on Monday of a heart attack in Madrid, Spain at age 77. For many years the centerpiece around which much of New Orleans music revolved, he was the last in a long line of New Orleans piano professors that also includes Professor Longhair, Huey “Piano” Smith, Fats Domino and Smiley Lewis, to name just a few. Toussaint was related to the Neville clan in NOLA via his mother who was a Neville. In the late 1950s, he began his career as a protégé of the great Dave Bartholomew, who at 94, survives him. Before 1960, he’d played organ and arranged Lee Allen’s “Walkin’ With Mr. Lee.” As a solo performer, his early albums, Allen Toussaint (also known as From a Scream to a Whisper) Life, Love and Faith and Southern Nights remain his best.

As a songwriter, he’s been covered by seemingly hundreds of performers scoring a number of hit singles like “Southern Nights” by Glen Campbell, “Working in a Coal Mine” by Lee Dorsey, “Whipped Cream” which was covered by Herb Albert and used as the theme song to the TV show, The Dating Game and “What Do You Want the Girl To Do” from both Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees and Lowell George’s Thanks I’ll Eat It Here. Toussaint was also a successful producer, helming such classics as The Meters' Trick Bag as well as more offbeat records like The Mighty Diamonds' Fire and Ice and Elvis Costello’s Punch The Clock. An accomplished horn arranger, he did the charts for The Band’s Last Waltz. He and his partner, the late Marshall Sehorn hired The Meters to be the house band for their production company, Sansu Enterprises. Their Sea-Saint Studios was another landmark in New Orleans musical history as it became the place where Labelle’s hit single “Lady Marmalade” was recorded. It was also the studio in which Paul McCartney recorded most of the Venus and Mars album with Toussaint on keyboards.

After Katrina, Toussaint moved north to NYC where he played a Jazz Brunch at Joe’s Pub on many Sundays. His 2009 record The Bright Mississippi is a late-career highlight that showed that he was still a potent performer. An irreplaceable loss for American popular music.

Mark Tarone's picture

An American treasure - supreme talent with a heart to match. Never stopped giving and sharing positive in so many ways with so many people. Thanks for the insightful article!

tonykaz's picture

Bout time Allen got discovered and remembered.

I hear it took a Hurricane to get him up to NYNY where he filled the Big Void.

Sad that he's gone, too!

Tony in Michigan

Howard Swayne's picture

I got to see him at the Paramount in Charlottesville Va. just this spring. Great performer and great show. RIP old man.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Toussaint arranged Solomon Burke's Cry to Me for Betty Harris (w/ strings). It was this version, a ballad, not Burke's upbeat version, that the Stones covered on Out of Our Heads, which to this day is one of my favorite Stones tunes. All three versions, btw, are the best.

Saw Toussaint, along with other Orleans R&B luminaries (like Bobby Marchan, Betty Harris, Huey "Piano" Smith, Irma Thomas and Earl King) in a club in the evening during Jazz Fest. I knew at the time that I had better see this musical history before it passed. It certainly has. But the recordings will never die. Alleluya.