Legendary New Orleans pianist and composer Allen Toussaint died at the age of seventy-seven on Monday, November 9. A true performer to the end, Toussaint was on tour in Europe at the time of his death.
Toussaint is fondly recalled as an elegant, humble, and supremely talented man. His work influenced countless artists, and the number of musicians who benefitted from Toussaint’s touch as a producer and arranger is astonishing. Throughout his career, Toussaint worked with the likes of Irma Thomas, Aaron Neville, Art Neville, Dr. John, the Meters, Paul McCartney, Joe Cocker, Ernie K-Doe, Lee Dorsey, Al Hirt, and many, many others.
Toussaint was born in 1938 and raised in Gert Town. He first played piano at age six and was soon picking out songs he heard on the radio. As a teenager, he found work as a session musician at Cosimo Matassa’s recording studio and wrote "Java" for trumpeter Al Hirt in 1958, who won a Grammy for it. Toussaint went on to write, produce, and arrange a number of now-instantly recognizable songs, including Ernie K-Doe’s hits “Mother-in-Law,” “A Certain Girl,” and “Tain’t It the Truth;” Chris Kenner’s “I Like It Like That;” Aaron Neville’s “Tell It Like It Is;” Art Neville’s “All These Things;” Lee Dorsey’s “Ride Your Pony;” and many more.
In 2013, Toussaint received the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on American artists. President Obama spoke highly of him at the award ceremony: “After his hometown was battered by Katrina and Allen was forced to evacuate, he did something even more important for his city -- he went back. And since then, Allen has devoted his musical talent to lifting up and building up a city. And today, he's taking the stage all over the world, with all kinds of incredible talent, doing everything he can to revive the legendary soul of the Big Easy."
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We'd also like to share some of the many photos of Allen Toussaint that we collected over the years: