Culturally Speaking with Dr. Brice Miller
Thoughts, Considerations and Realities Regarding New Orleans’ Creative Economy
In Memoriam: Remembering Our Cultural Icons
On behalf of The New Orleans Music Company, we send our condolences.
The last few weeks we have seen a constant bombardment of death notification regarding members from our cultural communities. With such a flurry of losing icons, I suggest now is a time that we reflect on both their massive contributions along with the importance of enculturation and what we as a city are doing to ensure cultural knowledge, processes, traditions, contributions, and innovation continue.
This isn’t about tourism. This is about ensuring we continue nurturing and supporting our culture and cultural traditions through education and experiential opportunities. I will be advocating this much more vocally than I have done in the past.
But for now, let us remember the icons we have recently lost:
Maestro Dave Bartholomew (December 24, 1918 – June 23, 2019)
An innovative writer, arranger, producer and trumpet, Maestro Bartholomew literally changed the direction of American music. By fusing New Orleans grooves and catchy songs, Bartholomew is considered the inventor of Rock & Roll, a music genre that quickly became a worldwide phenomenon, influencing artist such as Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and launching the careers of Chuck Berry and many more. Easily, Bartholomew is one of the most important New Orleans figures in the city’s 300 year history. Though I never had the pleasure of performing with Mr. Bartholomew, his influence as trumpeter not afraid to interject new styles in his music, plus his attention to the business of music have greatly influenced me. For all his contributions, I am thankful. The Maestro lived 100 full years… no tears, just sing on my friend, sing on.
Malcolm John “Dr. John” Rebennack Jr. (November 20, 1941 – June 6, 2019)
In a vain similar to Louis Armstrong, Dr. John epitomized the essence of New Orleans cultural. More specifically, he epitomized New Orleans’ Black music and cultural performance traditions throughout his five decades as a writer, performer and producer. On soundtracks from voodoo to children’s movies, Mac found a way to creatively celebrate New Orleans in every note he played, every lyric he sang. In addition, Mr. Rebennack successfully performed across genre lines. One album might feature reworked Mardi Gras Indian tunes, while the followup album might be a tribute to Count Baisey, regardless the musical style, the outcomes were always amazing. While I never had the opportunity to perform with Dr. John, I did have the pleasure of serving as the opening act for several of his House of Blues performances, and most recently, introducing him at a international convention in the Superdome in 2017, where I served as event Host and Master of Ceremony. Dr. John’s musical contributions will have a long-lasting impact.
Chef Leyah “Leah” Chase (January 6, 1923 – June 1, 2019)
Chef Chase did it her way, and in doing so, successfully competed in the White, male dominated New Orleans culinary ecosystem. On January 8, 2018, I had the distinct pleasure to perform for Mrs. Chase’s 95th birthday celebration with Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra. This, in hindsight, was an event I was grateful to participate in. Regarding Chase, Delfeayo eloquently stated, “Leah Chase was the embodiment of the American Dream. She was not only an expert chef and entrepreneur, but she also cared deeply for the advancement of her people.” Chef Leah and her deceased husband Dooky Chase (a trumpeter and bandleader in the 40-50s turned restauranteur) always supported not only their community, but the arts. My last meal at Dooky Chase was July 2018. The matriarch reigned over her dining room!
Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr. (February 26, 1928 – October 24, 2017)
One of the pioneers of rock and roll music, Domino has sold more than 65 million records. Growing up in the 9thWard, riding bikes pass the weird brick house with the yellow and black sign, as kids we never knew the gentleman who lived their was a rockstar. As a young musician I have had the pleasure of performing with several musicians who were members of Fats band, including saxophonist Frederick Shepard (deceased) and saxophonist Roger Lewis. Many of his songs have long been staples for the brass bands, so I’ve been singing songs such as ‘I’m Walking,’ ‘Blueberry Hill,’ and ‘Ain’t That A Shame.’ The genius of Fats Domino is that this shy man influenced artist including song was subsequently recorded by Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Led Zeppelin. Domino and his good friend Dave Bartholomew created a music empire in New Orleans. Their long-term collaboration with the producer, arranger, and frequent co-writing were responsible for virtually all of his success.
Rest In Peace: They May Be Gone But Their Impact Will Be Long-lasting
New Orleans’ culture is its greatest strength, and it is the people of New Orleans who create that culture. Maestro Bartholomew, Mrs. Chase, Mr. Domino, and Mr. Rebennack were all cultural entrepreneurs. It was their efforts that has allowed our entire tourism industry to prosper. It was because of their efforts that people from every corner of the world not only visit New Orleans, but decide to call it home.
As we both mourn their passing and celebrate their contributions, it is important that our tourism industry leaders truly understand these contributions and support the city’s Black cultural performers, culture-makers, musicians, artisans, chefs –– all of the creative economy.
The New Orleans Music Company is committed to investing in our community, the culture-bearers who shape and carry on our traditions, as we’ve been since 1991. In return, our services provide visitors and guests with the experiences that make them fall in love with our city over and over again. For this reason, it is imperative that we honor and celebrate the members of of creative communities while they are present with us, not just in memoriam. Doing so will also present greater exposure, which leads to greater opportunities, hence, a better quality of life.
Considering this, I look forward to working with members of the tourism industry, DMCs, event planners, wedding planners and event host to ensure The New Orleans Music Company is on the front lines of continuing to nourishing and sustaining our city’s culture for generations to come. Our education program ArtsNOLA (www.artsnola.org) works with schools and nonprofit programs to teach cultural traditions to young people.
To the families of our recently departed icons, The New Orleans Music Company will do our part to continue the legacies of your loved ones.
Dr. Brice A. Miller, Sr., Founder and Creative Director @ The New Orleans Music Company