In Memoriam: Herman Leonard

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Published on: August 16th, 2010


Herman Leonard in a self portrait from 1953
Herman Leonard in a self portrait from 1953

Herman Leonard, the great jazz photographer whose iconic images of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Dexter Gordon, and many more are treasured the world over, passed away on Saturday, August 14 in Los Angeles at the age of 87. A New Orleans resident from 1992 until Hurricane Katrina, Leonard saw his work exhibited many times around the globe since the late 1980s and released two books of photos featuring jazz legends. After Katrina and failure of the federal levee system in 2005 destroyed his home and archive of prints (the negatives are housed safely at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art), Leonard moved to Los Angeles. His third and final book, "Jazz," will be published in the U.K. later this year according to his web site.

WWOZ tips its hat to Herman Leonard, whose photographic documentation of jazz spanning several eras partly defined the world's imagining of this American art form. We send our condolences to his surving sons, daughters, and grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending; the family has requested that people wishing to honor Mr. Leonard simply donate to the New Orleans' Musicians Clinic.

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Please see blog about film and radio tribute.

Thanks Mike for posting your piece.

Mr. Herman was a gentle man, whose stupendous and creative photographic talents were matched by his generosity and love of New Orleans.

He was jazz history incarnate --- and left us with one of the most artistic legacies ever captured for the human eye.

He once told me that New Orleans was the only place where he felt at home in his own skin. We joke in New Orleans how it takes generations to become a "native" --- but Mr. Herman Leonard immediately became a part of the fabric and soul that is the Crescent City.

His passing brings tears to my heart; his pictures bring joy to us all.

Jelly Roll Justice

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