ovember 10th 2015 was a sad day for lovers of music. It was the day we lost a musical hero, the great Allen Toussaint, composer of so many wonderful pop songs through the decades: A man who influenced so many talented artists.
Toussaint was born in New Orleans and as a young child he soaked up all the rich sounds of the city: His family were true music appreciators: mother loved classical music, father played trumpet and his sister played piano. Allen himself took piano lessons but more or less did his own thing on his instrument.
At the age of 17, Allen started playing professionally at nightclubs and often gigged at The Dewdrop, an establishment that ignored the trend for racial segregation. An opportunity to stand in for the huge star, Fats Domino in 1957 paved the way to him being noticed by A&R man Danny Kestler and next thing he knew he was recording for himself as Al Tousan. He made an album of instrumental tracks which had no titles. The talent scout who had discovered Allen named all the tunes on the album after racehorses. He was a racing enthusiast!
In 1963, Toussaint's music career was put on hold when he was drafted into the army. When he left the army he found that the music scene was changing. The British invasion was in full swing and the bluesy R&B which had been the mainstay of popular music was being pushed aside for a new kind of rock n roll.
However, adapting to a new style was a little easier for a songwriter than it might have been for an artist and Toussaint found it relatively easy to re-invent himself and his music.
In the 60s his songs were recorded by The Rolling Stones and The Mersey Beats and the decade was his peak period as far as songwriting was concerned.
During the 70s he moved from Soul and R&B into a new sound: New Orleans Funk and at the same time he was getting more into producing. One of his big hits as a producer was Labelle’s Lady Marmalade.
As the years rolled by, more and more high profile artists were queuing up to have Allen Toussaint arrange and produce their music: Bonnie Rait, Paul Simon, Dr. John, Elvis Costello to name a few.
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans causing devastation of unimaginable proportions. Like so many other citizens, Toussaint’s home was completely destroyed with all his possessions, including all his treasured manuscripts.
“I’ll just have to write some more,” he declared as he set about rebuilding his life. One of the only good things to come out of the disaster was the rekindling of the musical spirit of the community.
Toussaint was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009, the Songwriter's Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011.
In 2013 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama.
A short list of some of Allen Toussaint’s songs:
Southern Nights – Glen Campbell
Lady Marmalade - Labelle. (Later by All Saints, then Pink, Christina Aguilera, Mya & Lil' Kim)
Here Come The Girls – Sugababes . (Originally recorded by Ernie K. Doe in 1970)
Mother-in-Law – Ernie K. Doe
Working in the Coalmine – Lee Dorsey
Understand – Christina Aguilera
Fortune Teller - Rolling Stones (Allen Toussaint under the pseudonym, Naomi Neville)
Yes We Can Can - Pointer Sisters
Shoorah Shoorah - Betty Wright
Holy Cow - Lee Dorsey