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Professor Longhair
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Professor Longhair

Professor Longhair (December 19, 1918 - January 30, 1980) (born Henry Roeland Byrd, also known as Roy "Bald Head" Byrd and as Fess) was a New Orleans, Louisiana blues singer and pianist. Professor Longhair is noteworthy for having been active in two distinct periods, both in the heyday of early rhythm and blues, and in the resurgence of interest in traditional jazz after the founding of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

The journalist Tony Russell, in his book The Blues - From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray, stated "The vivacious rhumba-rhythmed piano blues and choked singing typical of Fess were too weird to sell millions of records; he had to be content with siring musical offspring who were simple enough to manage that, like Fats Domino or Huey "Piano" Smith. But he is also acknowledged as a father figure by subtler players like Allen Toussaint and Dr. John.

Biography

Professor Longhair was born on December 19, 1918 in Bogalusa, Louisiana. He made a living as a street hustler until he started to play piano seriously in his thirties.

Professor Longhair began his career in New Orleans in 1948, earning a gig at the Caldonia Club, where the owner, Mike Tessitore, bestowed Longhair with his stage name (due to Byrd's shaggy coiffure). Longhair first recorded in 1949, creating four songs (including the first version of his signature song, "Mardi Gras in New Orleans," complete with whistled intro) for the Dallas, Texas based Star Talent label. His band was called the Shuffling Hungarians, for reasons lost to time. Union problems curtailed their release, but Longhair's next effort for Mercury Records the same year was a winner. Throughout the 1950s, he recorded for Atlantic Records, Federal Records and other, local labels. Professor Longhair had only one national commercial hit, "Bald Head" in 1950, credited to Roy Byrd & His Blues Jumpers. He also recorded his pet numbers "Tipitina", "Big Chief" and "Go to the Mardi Gras". He lacked the early crossover appeal of Fats Domino for white audiences.

After recuperating from a minor stroke, Professor Longhair came back in 1957 with "No Buts - No Maybes." He revived his "Go to the Mardi Gras" in 1959; this is the version that surfaces every year at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

In the 1960s Professor Longhair's career faltered. He became a janitor to support himself, and fell into a gambling habit.

He appeared at the 1971 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival to restore his standing, and played at the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival and the Montreux Jazz Festival. His recorded live set, Live on the Queen Mary (1978) came from a party given by Paul and Linda McCartney. His single visit to the UK in 1978, was commemorated by The London Concert.

By the 1980s his albums, such as Crawfish Fiesta on Alligator and New Orleans Piano for Atlantic, became readily available across the country. He appeared on the PBS series Soundstage (with Dr. John, Earl King, and The Meters) and co-starred in the film documentary, Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together. The latter became a memorial tribute when Longhair died in the middle of its filming and his funeral footage was included.

In 1980, Professor Longhair died in his sleep from a heart attack.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981

http://www.myspace.com/professorlongerhair

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