New Orleans music legend Allen Toussaint officially joined the ranks of the Jazz Fest ancestors on Saturday, as a painted cutout of him was unveiled near the festival’s Congo Square Stage.
The area, a memorial grounds of sorts, features wooden cutouts of festival legends like Danny Barker, Uncle Lionel Batiste, Al Hirt, Big Chief Bo Dollis and now Toussaint, who sits at a full grand-piano keyboard in the portrait unveiled Saturday after a second-line parade at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell.
Daughter Alison Toussaint LeBeaux said the portrait, painted by Stuart Auld, was a stunning likeness, and she was thrilled about the newest honor on her father’s behalf.
“He loved awards. But this would knock his socks off. And his sandals,” she said, in a reference to the footwear favored by her dapper dad, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songwriter, producer, pianist and singer who died of a heart attack in November at 77 after playing a concert in Madrid.
As bandleader Brice Miller led his Mahogany Brass Band in the parade honoring Toussaint, Miller — usually a trumpeter — tapped away on the snare drum, in a personal tribute to the musician Miller called “a man of many talents.”
Miller saw Toussaint’s skill as broad but rooted. “He really helped us to understand how to innovate while still staying true to New Orleans music,” Miller said.
Gerald Platenburg, 51, a member of the 9 Times Social Aid and Pleasure Club, also was part of the procession that wound around the festival’s stages, joined by three other clubs: Single Men, Single Ladies and a new spinoff from 9 Times called Team Woody, in honor of their king, Woody Randall.
Platenburg said he was especially impressed that Toussaint, who could have made his home anywhere, returned after Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans, “the city that he loved and that loved him.”
Being honored on the Fair Grounds would especially appeal to her father, Toussaint LeBeaux said. “This was home for him,” she said. “He would be humbled.”
Her sentiment reflected what Geoff Douville also knows about Allen Toussaint.
Douville, who runs the Lost Love Lounge in Faubourg Marigny, remembers reading an interview with Toussaint in which he wondered why no one asked him merely to play piano on a gig, as a side man.
The famed producer saw himself more modestly than others did, said Douville, who said one of the Lost Love’s high points came when Toussaint’s two-toned Rolls-Royce with the vanity plate “Piano” pulled up there after he found the lounge’s St. Joseph’s Altar on an altars list.
“We were like, ‘Allen Toussaint is here,’ ” Douville said, noting that Toussaint, though immaculately dressed as always, was down-to-earth and even posed for a photo in front of the altar, a photo that Douville hopes to soon hang in a place of prominence there.
Shawan “Queen Clickclack” Gracin, 43, sobbed as the Mahogany Brass Band broke into the funeral dirge “A Closer Walk With Thee” as the procession took its last turn, toward the field of wooden cutouts.
Gracin, a member of the Divine Ladies Social Aid and Pleasure Club, said she would be especially thinking of Toussaint as the club holds its annual parade on May 15.
Gracin and fellow Divine Ladies member Chanda Dew, 39, didn’t know Toussaint personally, they said. “But he was the epitome of jazz in this community,” they said.
“Without people like him and their devotion to New Orleans music, there would be no social aid and pleasure club parades. There would be no Divine Ladies.”