We were saddened to learn about the passing of the “Creole Beethoven,” Wardell Quezergue, yesterday in New Orleans. Quezergue, 81, was one of the giants of New Orleans music – one of those folks who is responsible for so many great, funky records that define the city’s distinctive rhythm and blues. He arranged countless classics: Professor Longhair’s “Big Chief,” The Dixie Cups’ “Iko Iko,” King Floyd’s “Groove Me,” Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff,” and Dorothy Moore’s “Misty Blue,” to name just a few. In 1992, he did the arrangements for Dr. John’s “little history of New Orleans music,” Goin’ Back to New Orleans. He also co-wrote “It Ain’t My Fault,” a staple of New Orleans’ brass bands. In 2000, he released the extraordinary A Creole Mass, a “prayer of Thanksgiving” that he began writing while stationed in Korea. He had been pulled from the front line to work as an arranger for the army band. His replacement was killed in action. He finally completed the work, a masterpiece for orchestra, chorus, brass band and vocals.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Education Director Jason Hanley and I had the honor of meeting Wardell during our preparations for last year’s American Music Masters tribute to Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew. We hosted a panel at the International Association for the Study of Popular Music that featured Wardell, Harold Batiste and Dr. Ike of the Ponderosa Stomp. Wardell was a gracious, funny and wise man. We made that connection through Dr. Ike, who staged a major tribute to Wardell at the Ponderosa Stomp Lincoln Center in 2009. It’s fitting that we will all gather in New Orleans next week for the 10th annual Ponderosa Stomp. Honoring the unsung heroes like Wardell Quezergue is what the festival is all about. [Pictured above: Standing (l-r): Dr. Ira Padnos AKA Dr. Ike, Dr. Lauren Onkey, Dr. Jason Hanley; seated (l-r): Harold Battiste Jr., Wardell Quezergue at 2010 International Association for the Study of Popular Music conference in New Orleans.] Visit the Ponderosa Stomp website to learn more about Wardell Quezergue.