Allen Toussaint, whose work as a songwriter, producer, and performer helped define the sound of soul and R&B in New Orleans and beyond, died following a performance in Madrid last night (Nov. 9), his family confirmed to New Orleans CBS affiliate WWL. He was 77.
Toussaint, who grew up in New Orleans, began his career producing for local talent like Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas, Art and Aaron Neville, and Lee Dorsey in the early 1960s. Adopting the second-line piano style of artists like Professor Longhair, he brought the New Orleans aesthetic to a national audience with hits like “Mother-In-Law,” “Fortune Teller,” “Ride Your Pony,” and many more.
By the 1970s, Toussaint had gone international, collaborating with everyone from Paul McCartney (he played on Venus and Mars) to Solomon Burke to Paul Simon (with whom he had just announced a New Orleans benefit concert last week). He also launched his solo career during this era with a trio of R&B albums for Warner Bros. Between his solo work and his writing for other artists, his songs have been covered by everyone from the Rolling Stones and Jerry Garcia to Bonnie Raitt and Glen Campbell. His production for seminal funk groups like The Meters has also found a second life as the backbone of some of hip-hop’s most recognizable beats.
Toussaint reemerged as one of the musical voices of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, recording with Elvis Costello and Eric Clapton and touring widely. Already a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Toussaint’s new solo work earned him six long-deserved Grammy nominations through 2013 and 2014, as well as a National Medal of the Arts. “Allen has devoted his musical talent to lifting up and building up a city,” President Obama said at the ceremony in 2013. “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.”
Toussaint found success in the past decade on Billboard‘s jazz charts, reaching No. 2 on Traditional Jazz Albums with 2006’s The River in Reverse, with Elvis Costello, and 2009’s The Bright Mississippi. In 2013, his Songbook reached No. 6 on the tally.