World-renowned stars and home folks who love New Orleans’ rich musical heritage crowded into a historic theater Friday to bid farewell in words and song to Allen Toussaint, a prolific songwriter, performer and producer who died last week at age 77.
Jimmy Buffett sang “Fortune Teller.” Davell Crawford accompanied himself on piano, singing a haunting version of “Southern Nights,” the New Orleans-born Toussaint’s reminiscence of childhood visits to relatives in rural south Louisiana. Other performers included John Boutte, Dr. John and New Orleans’ “Queen of Soul” Irma Thomas, who said farewell with a gospel tune. The Preservation Hall Brass Band joined Trombone Shorty to close out the performances with a rousing “I’ll Fly Away.”
“To me he seemed like an elegant prince out of history,” Costello said as he recounted his first meeting with Toussaint in 1983. “Gracious, generous, ever curious about what came next, but so modest.”
Scaggs joined Jon Cleary in a performance of Toussaint’s “What Do You Want the Girl To Do.”
There also was a performance by Toussaint himself, a recording of him singing “Take Me the Rest of the Way.”
The tribute was at the Orpheum, recently renovated and reopened a decade after it was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The performances were carried live on the city’s community radio station WWOZ. Toussaint’s body lay in repose in a closed casket in the theater.
Toussaint died from a heart attack on Nov. 10 while on tour in Spain. A private burial is planned Saturday.
He was a quintessential part of the New Orleans musical scene starting from his teenage years after he taught himself to play the piano.
His long career took him from the Crescent City to the world stage. He had numerous hits to his name. He penned the 1966 Lee Dorsey classic “Working in the Coal Mine” and produced Dr. John’s 1973 hit “Right Place, Wrong Time” and 1975’s “Lady Marmalade” by the vocal trio Labelle. Other hits include “Southern Nights,” and “Ruler of My Heart.”
Toussaint, a Grammy Award winner, was a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. In 2013, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama.