Pete Fountain, the clarinetist and one of New Orleans' premier 20th century ambassadors to the world, died this morning in hospice, according to the Associated Press. Fountain was 86.
A native New Orleanian, Fountain rose to fame in the 1950s on The Lawrence Welk Show before returning to New Orleans and opening an eponymous nightclub on Bourbon Street in the building that now houses the Oz dance club. In the coming years, he would appear many times on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, playing with the Doc Severinsen Orchestra and touring the country. In the 1970s, he closed his Bourbon Street club and established "Pete Fountain's Jazz Club" at the New Orleans Hilton Riverside, where he performed until 2003.
Fountain performed for Pope John Paul II at St. Louis Cathedral in 1987, and received the Big Easy Awards' Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998. He also was known for his "Half-Fast Walking Club," a Mardi Gras marching group that wended its way into the French Quarter on Fat Tuesday morning. The group was too "half-fast" for Baton Rouge; in 2010, in its first appearance in a Mardi Gras parade there, organizers kicked Fountain and his krewe out of the parade for marching too slowly.
In a statement, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said, "He was an inspiring performer whose unmistakable sound defined our city's unique cultural heritage. We have lost one of the jazz greats, but his music will live on forever. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this very difficult time of grief.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards said, "Mr. Fountain and his clarinet filled our streets, homes and hearts with music and joy. Throughout his extensive career, Mr. Fountain was always a proud ambassador for the City of New Orleans."
Here's Fountain in one of his many performances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1979. Below the cut: some social media memories of Fountain: