Allen Toussaint, a beloved New Orleans music icon, died Monday in Europe, according to reports. The singer-songwriter was 77.
Toussaint was on tour in Spain and died after a performance Monday at Madrid’s Lara Theater. The Associated Press reported that Toussaint suffered a heart attack.
A songwriter, pianist, producer, arranger and late-blooming frontman, Toussaint was honored throughout his career. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Toussaint the National Medal of Arts. Also that year, the New Orleans Music Legends Park unveiled a statue of the performer, and Tulane University awarded Toussaint an honorary doctorate.
In 2011, Toussaint was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Toussaint was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
Toussaint’s long, unusually successful life in music dated to the day a piano entered his parents’ house. He was 6. A gift from his aunt, the instrument was meant for his sister.
“People thought it was fine for a young lady to play the piano or violin,” Toussaint told the Advocate in 2011. “Well, my sister, she didn’t take to it. But when they first put it in the house, I fell in love immediately.”
The young Toussaint enthusiastically picked out little tunes at the keyboard.
“I played all day,” he said. “I would wake up in the morning and get to the piano and play. I mimicked everything on the radio.”
Playing melodies he’d learned from the radio led to Toussaint creating melodies of his own.
“It was a natural evolution,” he said.
New Orleans singer-pianist Professor Longhair became Toussaint’s deepest influence.
“He was off the beaten path from everyone else. The others were doing one, two, three, four. Professor Longhair’s music did not feel like that to me. It was something else, as if it came out of some wild jungle. It just floored me. I took off behind Professor Longhair and wanted everything that he had.”
Influential songs of Toussaint include “Working in the Coal Mine,” “Ride Your Pony,” “Fortune Teller,” “Southern Nights,” and “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky.”
After critically-acclaimed releases in 2006 (“The River in Reverse” with Elvis Costello) and 2009 (“The Bright Mississippi”), Toussaint released a live set called “Songbook,” which featured performances recorded over two nights in fall 2009 at New York City’s Joe’s Pub.