New Orleans learns to live without musical icons after losses


Family members carry Dave Bartholomew’s casket out of St. Gabriel the Archangel Roman Catholic Church on July 8, 2019. A stationary second line took place afterward with the Treme Brass Band. Photo credit: Andres Fuentes

Andres Fuentes

New Orleans went through a summer of blaring horns, dancing in the heat and marching away calories. But as colorful and lively as the second lines were, they were all to honor the dead.

The city took a serious hit over a span of two months, as its’ residents laid to rest significant icons that were tied to New Orleans’ music scene.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and six-time Grammy winner, Dr. John took his last breath on June 6th at the age of 77.

Dave Bartholomew, a mainstay in New Orleans R&B, passed away on June 23rd after reaching 100 years old.

Co-founder of The Meters and The Neville Brothers, Art Neville, died on July 22nd at the age of 81.

All three musicians made their mark in funk, blues and jazz.

“The music they made is timeless,” The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate writer Keith Spera said. “With their passing, the world lost three musical innovators who brought enormous joy to countless listeners. The city lost three of its greatest cultural ambassadors, as well as three distinctly local characters.”

All three musicians brought a unique sound to a city renowned for its’ music and their impact was and still is affecting up-and-coming local artists.

“Their music set the foundation that everyone who plays New Orleans music must deal with,” David Kunian, the Music Curator for the New Orleans Jazz Museum, said. “In the case of funk and rock ‘n’ roll, you can’t play that music right without absorbing what they did. That’s what made them real superstars.”

They were local mainstays, but they also did their part to bring the sound of the bayou to foreign ears, too.

Spera said, “They literally helped define ‘New Orleans music’ and give it worldwide appeal.”

Similar to Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima before them, Dr. John, Bartholomew and Neville stayed on the microphone, the keys and the recording studio until they were heard around the globe.

“Each of them toured incessantly and worked to play music and play it everywhere,” Kunian said. “New Orleans is a small town compared to many cities in the rest of the world, but thanks to them and the people they played with, more generations see how great the music of New Orleans is.”

Some time after their deaths, the city still feels the gaping void they each left.

“I knew all three had been in declining health, it still came as a shock to learn that they were gone,” Spera said. “Each was such a huge presence in my world. Professional obligations aside, there was also some sadness, as I always enjoyed interacting with them.”

However, their records and contribution to music will keep their legacy alive, so long as New Orleans keeps playing their music.

“I suspect (their music) will live on as long as people listen to music, and as long as New Orleans musicians take inspiration from the past. The city should remember and honor them as icons of the music that defines New Orleans,” Spera said.

But, as up-and-coming artists draw inspiration from the dead legends, there will never be a musician that could replicate what they’ve done.

“They brought excellent musicianship, rock solid rhythm, a great degree of creativity and an attitude that is reflective of New Orleans,” Kunian said. “They had class, style and originality. They were their own people and musicians.”

Spera emphasized that another talent will never write, sing and play music the same way that Dr. John, Bartholomew and Neville did.

He said, “They’ll never be replaced or replicated, because they were utterly unique talents, and the circumstances that nurtured them simply don’t exist any more.”