Buddy Boudreaux, the saxophonist and clarinetist who led Baton Rouge jazz and dance bands from 1939 until last year, died Saturday afternoon at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. He was 97.
“He loved playing music,” Boudreaux’s oldest son, Richard, said Saturday. “He loved looking out from the bandstand and seeing people listening, dancing and having a good time. And he figured out how to have it all — a day job, a family, a big band. He was successful at all of that and was one of the happiest, most fun-loving people I ever knew.”
Boudreaux’s groups included his 16-piece Buddy Lee Orchestra; a seven-piece band; a four-piece dance combo; and the four-piece XL Acoustic Jazz Band. Until early last year, he performed with the XL Acoustic Jazz Band at Copeland’s of New Orleans on Essen Lane.
Boudreaux played countless dances, parties, receptions, brunches and concerts. He also served as the head of the American Federation of Musicians Local 538 and worked a day job at Exxon for more than 40 years.
On Sunday, the musician’s wife, Ruth, said her husband loved dancing as much as he loved to play music.
“If he couldn’t be out there dancing, he thoroughly enjoyed making music to dance to,” she said.
Boudreaux’s bands backed visiting stars such as Andy Williams, The Four Tops, Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Johnny Mathis, Bob Hope, George Burns and Joan Rivers. He opened concerts for Tony Bennett, Tony Orlando, Louise Mandrell and The Beach Boys. His recordings included music for the locally shot movies “Blaze” and “The Toy.”
Born in 1917 in Donaldsonville, Boudreaux grew up in Baton Rouge. At 12, Boudreaux bought a saxophone and a dozen music lessons with money he’d earned caddying for a golf pro. Those lessons were his only formal instruction, he told The Advocate in 1991.
By 1929, Boudreaux was a member of Baton Rouge’s first youth orchestra, which performed for children’s shows at the Paramount Theatre.
Boudreaux studied chemical engineering at LSU but much preferred performing with the Tiger Band, then led by Castro Carazo. After his brief stay at LSU, he worked as an office boy at Exxon, the beginning of decades of employment there. Upon his retirement from Exxon in 1980, he was supervisor of operations analysis.
While serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, Boudreaux performed in USO shows with the Dukes of Rhythm. After the war, he returned to Exxon, where he met his future wife and booking agent, Ruth.
The Boudreauxs temporarily left Baton Rouge for Berkeley, California, where he obtained a business administration degree from the University of California.
Boudreaux performed music throughout his 40-plus years at Exxon. He stopped performing in 2014 due to health issues.
“It gives me a real good feeling to know I’m doing something that brings pleasure to other people,” he told The Advocate in 1991. “When they’re laughing and dancing and most of the people are on the floor, I know I’ve got it right.”
Although Boudreaux performed with such nationally known acts as the Tommy Dorsey Band, Jimmy Dorsey Band and Bob Crosby, he chose to stay in Baton Rouge and not become a full-time musician.
“I’ve got my family and my music — the best of both worlds,” he explained.
Boudreaux is survived by his wife, Ruth; sons Richard, John, Ronald and Jeffrey; grandchildren Allison Walden, Jeremy Boudreaux and Josephine Boudreaux; and great-grandchildren Luke and Lillian Walden.
Memorial services are yet not finalized.