R&B singer dies after concert

Allen Toussaint.
Allen Toussaint.

NEW YORK • Allen Toussaint, the versatile producer, songwriter, pianist and singer who was a fixture of New Orleans R&B, died after appearing in concert in Madrid on Monday night. He was 77.

His daughter Alison Toussaint- LeBeaux confirmed his death. A spokesman for Madrid emergency services told The Associated Press that rescue workers had been called to Toussaint's hotel early on Tuesday and were able to revive him after a heart attack, but that he later stopped breathing en route to a hospital.

In concert, in the studio or around his beloved New Orleans, Toussaint was a soft-spoken embodiment of the city's musical traditions, revered as one of the master craftsmen of 20th-century American pop.

"In the pantheon of New Orleans music people, from Jelly Roll Morton to Mahalia Jackson to Fats - that's the place where Allen Toussaint is in," said Mr Quint Davis, the long-time producer of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, where Toussaint played almost every year since the mid-1970s, referring to Fats Domino.

Toussaint's career began when he was a teenager in the 1950s and his jaunty piano-playing caught the ear of Mr Dave Bartholomew, Domino's producer. It continued to the present, with a late-blooming love of performing live and collaborations with rock and pop musicians such as Elvis Costello.

During the 1970s, his studio, Sea-Saint, which he founded with producer Marshall Sehorn, became renowned for recordings by The Meters, Dr John and Labelle, and attracted international pop stars including Paul McCartney and Robert Palmer. Toussaint also found his way to No. 1 on the pop charts in 1977 when Glen Campbell recorded a cover of his song Southern Nights.

His inspiration, he often said, was New Orleans itself and over the years, he became an unofficial musical ambassador for the city, where for decades he maintained a modest home in a middle-class neighbourhood.

On Tuesday, Paul Simon, with whom Toussaint was scheduled to give a benefit concert in New Orleans on Dec 8, recalled their long history together, which goes back to recording sessions in the early 1970s, when Toussaint played piano for him and wrote chord charts for his musicians.

"We were friends and colleagues for almost 40 years," Simon wrote in an e-mail message. "We played together at the New Orleans jazz festival. We played the benefits for Katrina relief. We were about to perform together on Dec 8. I was just beginning to think about it; now I'll have to think about his memorial. I am so sad."

In addition to his daughter, Toussaint's survivors include a son, a brother and six grandchildren.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2015, with the headline 'R&B singer dies after concert'. Print Edition | Subscribe