Professor Longhair Biography
Professor Longhair, or “Fess” for short, was an American singer and pianist who specialized in New Orleans blues. He was active during two separate periods: first, during the height of early rhythm and blues, and later, with the foundation of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1970, during the resurrection of interest in classic jazz. “Instantly recognized, blending rumba, mambo, and calypso,” has been said about his keyboard approach.
Music journalist Tony Russell (in his book The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray) wrote that “The vivacious rhumba-rhythmed piano blues and choked singing typical of Fess were too weird to sell millions of records; he had to be content with siring musical offspring who were simple enough to manage that, like Fats Domino or Huey “Piano” Smith. But he is also acknowledged as a father figure by subtler players like Allen Toussaint and Dr. John.”
Byrd was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana, on December 19, 1918. Learning to play on a piano that was lacking certain keys affected his peculiar style of piano playing. In 1948, he started his career in New Orleans. Longhair was given his stage moniker by Mike Tessitore, the owner of the Caledonia Club. In 1949, Longhair formed the Shuffling Hungarians and recorded four songs for the Star Talent label, including the earliest version of his signature tune, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans.” Their release was delayed due to labor issues, but Longhair’s next album for Mercury Records the following year was a hit. He recorded for Atlantic Records, Federal Records, and local labels throughout the 1950s.
Under the name Roy Byrd and His Blues Jumpers, Professor Longhair had only one national commercial hit, “Bald Head,” in 1950. He also recorded “Tipitina” and “Go to the Mardi Gras,” two of his favorites. He didn’t have broad appeal among white audiences. Nonetheless, he is regarded (and was recognised) as a musician who influenced other notable musicians such as Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, and Dr. John. Professor Longhair recorded “No Buts – No Maybes” in 1957 after suffering a stroke. In 1959, he re-recorded “Go to the Mardi Gras.”
In 1964, he recorded “Big Chief” alongside Earl King, the song’s writer. Professor Longhair’s career stalled in the 1960s. To make ends meet, he worked as a janitor and developed a gambling addiction.
Professor Longhair’s musical career eventually achieved “a well-deserved revival” and wide exposure after a few years away from the music world. In 1971, he was invited to perform at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and in 1973, he was invited to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival and the Montreux Jazz Festival. His album The London Concert features music he completed during a trip to the United Kingdom. The CD Professor Longhair – Live on the Queen Mary, which was recorded on March 24, 1975, during a private party held by Paul and Linda McCartney on board the retired RMS Queen Mary, was a key career resurrection.
His albums, such as Crawfish Fiesta on Alligator Records and New Orleans Piano on Atlantic Records, were widely available in the United States by the 1980s. He had an appearance on the PBS series Soundstage in 1974. (with Dr. John, Earl King, and The Meters). In 1980, he co-starred in the documentary Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together, produced and directed by Stevenson Palfi, alongside Tuts Washington and Allen Toussaint. The documentary (which debuted on public television in 1982 and has been rarely seen since) was included in the 2018 project “Fess Up,” as was a long interview with Fess (which was recorded two days before his tragic death).
Professor Longhair died of a heart attack in his sleep while the documentary was being filmed (and before the live concert, which was planned to be its climax). The documentary contained footage from his funeral. He was laid to rest in New Orleans’ Mount Olivet Cemetery.
The Blues Hall of Fame inducted Professor Longhair in 1981. He received a posthumous Grammy Award in 1987 for House Party New Orleans Style, a collection of recordings created by Quint Davis between 1971 and 1972. In 1992, he was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2016, Professor Longhair was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in New Orleans, where he used to live.
Professor Longhair Discography
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Professor Longhair’S Real Name?
Professor Longhair was born Henry Roeland Byrd on December 19, 1918, in Bogalusa, Louisiana. He began playing piano at the age of six and was influenced by the music he heard in his hometown, which included a mix of blues, boogie-woogie, and African rhythms. His unique style combined these various influences and became known as “rhumba-boogie.” Professor Longhair’s first recordings were made in 1949, but it was not until the 1950s that he began to gain national attention. He recorded several classics during this period, including “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” and “Tipitina.” Professor Longhair continued to perform and record until his death in 1980. His music remains popular and is an important part of the New Orleans musical tradition.
What Style Of Music Is Professor Longhair?
Professor Longhair’s music is a blend of blues, R&B, and New Orleans jazz. His style is often described as “piano boogie-woogie”. Professor Longhair is considered one of the pioneers of rock and roll, and his music has influenced many other artists.
What Is Most Famous Of Professor Longhair?
Professor Longhair, also known as “Fess” or “Baldhead Fess”, was a New Orleans blues and boogie-woogie pianist and singer. He was active in two distinct periods, first in the 1940s and 1950s, then in the 1960s and 1970s. His style of piano playing combined blues, jazz, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. He was unique in the way he approached the piano, with a left-hand technique that emphasized rhythm over melody, and a right-hand style that was based on improvisation.
How Many Album Of Professor Longhair?
Professor Longhair released a total of 13 albums during his career. His most famous and well-known album is probably his 1972 record, “The London Sessions”, which was recorded live in England. Other popular Professor Longhair albums include “Mardi Gras in New Orleans”, “Crawfish Fiesta”, and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Gumbo”. Professor Longhair’s last album, “Cajun Moon”, was released posthumously in 1992.
What Is The Famous Song Of Professor Longhair?
“Mardi Gras in New Orleans” is the most famous song by Professor Longhair. It is a classic New Orleans Mardi Gras tune that is still played today during Mardi Gras celebrations.