Robert E. Lee vs. Allen Toussaint

Like many others, the city of New Orleans is re-considering some of its place and street names. Jefferson Davis Parkway will soon be Norman C. Francis Parkway. Mr. Francis was the long-time president of Xavier University.

Allen Toussaint’s houses on Robert E. Lee Blvd. (NOLA Times-Picayune)

Hurricane Katrina forced Allen Toussaint from his New Orleans home in 2005. He relocated to New York City until returning to his birthplace several years later. He purchased and renovated his son Reginald’s former home—Reginald had also been washed out—and two adjacent properties on Robert E. Lee Boulevard. He also bought a house around the corner. The famed musician/songwriter/arranger/producer made one his primary residence, another a recording studio, a third for band members who needed a place to stay and the fourth for Reginald when he visited.

Allen Toussaint, was born in New Orleans in 1938. He began playing piano at age seven. Toussaint’s big break came at the age of seventeen. He was hired to play piano on a Fats Domino recording when the Fat Man himself was not available. (Fats dubbed in the vocal later.) Toussaint was soon a regular player at recording sessions during New Orleans’ formative rock and roll years.

Ernie K-Doe had a number-one hit in 1961 with a Toussaint composition, “Mother-in-Law.” Toussaint-penned “I Like It Like That” by Chris Kenner hit number two the same year and the Dave Clark Five’s version made it to number seven on the U.S. charts in 1965. Toussaint also gave us “A Certain Girl” (Ernie K-Doe, Yardbirds, Warren Zevon), “Working in the Coal Mine” (Lee Dorsey, Devo), “Java” (Floyd Cramer, Al Hirt), “Yes We Can Can” (Lee Dorsey, Pointer Sisters) and dozens more. “Southern Nights,” a reminiscence from Toussaint’s childhood, was a number-one hit for Glen Campbell in 1977.

Toussaint occasionally used his mother’s name, Naomi Neville, as a pseudonym. One such composition, “Whipped Cream” was recorded by Herb Alpert and later became the theme for TV’s “The Dating Game.”

Not mentioned in obituaries and remembrances is Toussaint’s dark, misogynistic “Over You,” a minor hit for Aaron Neville in 1960. Paul Revere & the Raiders’ lighthearted(!?) version of the song got some radio airplay in the Northwest a few years later. (The Raiders covered several New Orleans songs in their early, pre-Dick Clark days.)

The Band, Paul Simon, Little Feat are among those who enlisted Mr. Toussaint to do horn arrangements. He produced Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” and LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade.” Mr. Toussaint produced, arranged, and played piano on albums by Etta James, Elvis Costello, Joe Cocker and others.

Allen Toussaint was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. He died of a heart attack in 2015while on tour in Spain.

The New Orleans City Council Street Renaming Commission is considering Creole chef and restaurateur Leah Chase as the replacement for Robert E. Lee Boulevard. Jimmy Anselmo, locally known as the proprietor of Jimmy’s Music Club is promoting a petition to rename the street Allen Toussaint Boulevard. Reginald Toussaint supports the effort. They argue that Mr. Toussaint lived and worked on the boulevard and that a street near Ms. Chase’s famous restaurant would be a better choice.

Seems like a no-brainer to me.

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