You may not know Allen Toussaint by name, but you’ve probably heard his songs—or at least famous renditions of his songs.
The New Orleans singer and pianist, who died this morning after a performance in Madrid, wrote a number of songs that were canonized when covered by other artists. You might remember “Fortune Teller,” a standard for bands from the 1960s British Invasion that was most famously covered by The Rolling Stones. Or maybe “Java,” recorded by fellow New Orleans denizen Al Hirt, jogs your memory. Or you’ve heard his music sampled by Jay Z on his first album, “Reasonable Doubt.”
But to note this alone would do Toussaint’s exceptional legacy injustice. Born in the heart of the Crescent City’s legendary music world in 1938, the self-taught pianist would eventually become one of New Orleans’ most prolific composers and producers. Through work as the Minit label’s house producer and songwriter, he solidified a songwriting fingerprint as well-known for its irreverence and flourish as its sophistication. Shortly after working with funk pioneers The Meters, Toussaint co-launched Sea-Saint Studios in 1972, hosting artists like Paul McCartney.
After relocating to New York City following Hurricane Katrina, Toussaint experienced something of a revival through collaborations with Elvis Costello and a renewed interest in his hometown’s music. Through it all, he beacme an ambassador for the city and maintained tremendous popularity even after he left.
Few personalities have as a strong connection to the heritage and legacy of New Orleans R&B as Toussaint. With that, we offer the following five songs, all with Toussaint’s imprint, to celebrate his life.
(H/t The New York Times)