Mu­si­cian made Big Easy sing

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Glenn Whipp glenn. whipp@ latimes. com

Harold Battiste, who put his stamp on the New Or­leans mu­sic scene for decades, dies at 83.

Harold Battiste, the New Or­leans- born com­poser, pro­ducer, ar­ranger and mu­si­cian who put his dis­tinc­tive stamp on the city’s mu­sic for sev­eral decades, died Fri­day af­ter a lengthy ill­ness, his son Harlis said. He was 83.

Battiste founded the f irst African Amer­i­can mu­si­cian- owned record la­bel, All For One, bet­ter known as AFO Records, in 1961. The la­bel be­came home brief ly to many of New Or­leans’ top play­ers and singers, in­clud­ing Lee Dorsey, Tami Lynn and Bar­bara Ge­orge.

In his 2010 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “Un­fin­ished Blues,” Battiste wrote that he was inspired by the speeches of Na­tion of Is­lam leader Eli­jah Muham­mad, who “of­ten spoke to the need for our peo­ple to cre­ate wealth through own­er­ship.”

“It seemed that ev­ery eth­nic group was iden­ti­fied with a prod­uct or ser­vice that they owned and con­trolled,” Battiste wrote, “and it seemed that the prod­uct gen­er­ally at­trib­uted to us was mu­sic: jazz, blues, R& B, gospel.”

The la­bel’s big­gest hit was Ge­orge’s vi­brant, gospel- inspired “I Know ( You Don’t Love Me No More),” which reached No. 1 on the R& B charts and No. 3 on the pop charts.

Battiste also lent his tal­ents to nu­mer­ous stu­dio ses­sions in Los An­ge­les in the 1950s and ’ 60s. He played that dis­tinc­tive so­prano sax melody on Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” and later served as mu­sic di­rec­tor on their tele­vi­sion va­ri­ety show. “Sonny wouldn’t do any­thing with­out me,” Battiste told the Ad­vo­cate news­pa­per in a 2010 in­ter­view. “Sonny knew what I could do bet­ter than I knew. He told me, ‘ Man, you’re bet­ter than most of these cats out here!’ But I didn’t know that any­thing that I did had that much value. I got $ 125 for ‘ I Got You Babe.’ That’s all.”

Battiste also ar­ranged Sam Cooke’s f irst sec­u­lar hit, “You Send Me,” and played pi­ano on his civil rights an­them “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

Battiste was in­stru­men­tal in de­vel­op­ing New Or­leans mu­sic icon Mac Reben­nack’s fa­mous Dr. John per­sona, pro­duc­ing his f irst al­bum, 1968’ s “Gris Gris,” a spooky, psy­che­delic- tinged stew of voodoo New Or­leans R& B recorded in L. A.

Battiste and Dr. John re­port­edly cut the record quickly, us­ing leftover stu­dio time from a Sonny and Cher ses­sion.

“The key to when I did the Dr. John thing,” Battiste told the Ad­vo­cate, “I just had to get a bunch of New Or­leans peo­ple. I knew that we would make the vibe that we wanted.”

Battiste was born Oct. 28, 1931, in New Or­leans, the son of Pearl Wilmer Bo­dar and Harold Battiste Sr. He grew up near the famed Lasalle Street R& B night­club the Dew Drop Inn and re­called in his memoir how its prox­im­ity inf lu­enced his path in life.

“I could hear the mu­sic com­ing from there on my front porch and in my liv­ing room,” he wrote. “It was the mu­sic of the black stars of the day: lots of R& B, a lit­tle swing, a lit­tle jazz, a bit of jump. It was all about the rhythm, and I couldn’t help but be drawn to that mu­sic be­cause it spoke di­rectly to my spirit.”

Battiste earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion from Dil­lard Univer­sity in 1952. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, he taught mu­sic at the Beau­re­gard Parish Train­ing School be­fore pur­su­ing a record deal in Cal­i­for­nia. For the next 30 years, he split his time be­tween New Or­leans and Los An­ge­les, where he taught jazz at the Col­burn School.

Battiste re­turned to New Or­leans in 1989, join­ing El­lis Marsalis Jr. as a pro­fes­sor of jazz stud­ies at the Univer­sity of New Or­leans.

“Harold was al­ways a guid­ing force,” Marsalis said in a 2009 in­ter­view with Loy­ola Univer­sity New Or­leans’ Cen­ter For Mu­sic and Arts Entrepreneurship. “He was al­ways cham­pi­oning jazz mu­sic.”

Battiste suf­fered a stroke in 1993 that lim­ited his abil­ity to play. In re­cent years, he fo­cused his at­ten­tion on com­pos­ing, cat­a­loging and pro­mot­ing the her­itage of New Or­leans mu­sic and re­viv­ing the AFO la­bel, trans­form­ing it into a non­profit foun­da­tion.

Battiste’s 35- year mar­riage with Alvi­ette Dom­inque ended in a 1988 di­vorce. A 1995 union with New Or­leans school­teacher Ber­weda Hatch ended when they sep­a­rated two years later.

Battiste’s sur­vivors in­clude chil­dren Harold III, An­drea, Marz­ique and Harlis; a grand­child; and a great- grand­child.

Michael Ochs Ar­chives Getty I mages

‘ GUID­ING FORCE’ Harold Battiste was founder of New Or­leans’ AFO Records and was

mu­sic di­rec­tor on “The Sonny & Cher Com­edy Hour.”

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