If you’ve been to Tipitina’s or the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, or listened to the likes of Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Art Neville, Jon Cleary, James Booker or Marcia Ball, you’re acquainted with Professor Longhair.

His likeness tops Jazz Fest’s main Acura Stage and hangs above the Tipitina’s stage. A bronze bust of Longhair by the late hoodoo guitarist Coco Robicheaux stands near the entrance to Tipitina’s, which is named for one of his songs.

He influenced and inspired the aforementioned piano players, as well as such unexpected figures as New Age pianist George Winston and actor/pianist Hugh “House” Laurie.

Professor Longhair, born Henry Roeland Byrd, is the patron saint of the New Orleans piano tradition. His voice, melodic sense, wordplay and piano style, the latter a heavily percussive, Afro-Caribbean-inflected brand of Big Easy boogie-woogie, were uniquely his own. He is the sound of New Orleans, as his timeless recordings of “Go To the Mardi Gras” and “Big Chief,” still omnipresent during Carnival season, attest.

+8 
JazzFest024.JPG

Donald Fagen, right, and Walter Becker, left, of Steely Dan perform on the Acura Stage, under a memorial to Professor Longhair, on the first day of the Jazz Fest in New Orleans, La. Friday, April 22, 2016.

Longhair, affectionately known as Fess, would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. He died in 1980, at the height of a career revival orchestrated in large part by Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis and the late Allison Miner, for whom the festival’s Music Heritage Stage in the Fair Grounds grandstand is named.

On Sunday from 12:30 to 1:15 p.m., the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage will host “Fess Up! A Professor Longhair Centennial Celebration.”

Participants include Pat Byrd, Longhair’s daughter; Jon Cleary, who will likely showcase samples of Longhair songs; bassist Reggie Scanlan, of the Radiators, and percussionist Alfred “Uganda” Roberts, both alumni of Longhair’s band; documentarian Polly Waring; and moderator Ben Sandmel.

Waring spearheaded the recent release of “Fess Up,” a lavish, book-sized double-DVD package containing 38 pages of photos and essays, a 95-minute Longhair interview — most of it previously unreleased — and a reissue of the 1982 documentary “Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together.”

Directed by Waring’s late husband, Stevenson Palfi, “Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together” features Longhair, Toussaint and fellow New Orleans piano legend Tuts Washington. Palfi had planned to conclude the documentary with a concert featuring Longhair, Washington and Toussaint onstage side by side. But Longhair died two days before the scheduled taping. So instead, Palfi used rehearsal footage of the trio, footage that is revealing in its own right.

The renewed attention for Longhair during Jazz Fest is fitting, as Longhair’s story is intimately tied to the festival.

Born in Bogalusa in 1918, he moved to New Orleans as a boy. He took up the piano in the 1940s, at one point leading a band called the Shuffling Hungarians. His take on rhythm and blues, interspersed with calypso and rhumba rhythms, was exotic by conventional R&B standards.

He released a handful of singles for Mercury, Atlantic and other labels in the 1950s and 1960s. His only national hit was “Bald Head,” even though every New Orleanian alive has likley heard his versions of “Go To the Mardi Gras” and Earl King’s “Big Chief.”

+6 
Hogan Miner

Allison Miner seated with Professor Longhair, most likely at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, in the 1970s.

Unable to sustain a music career, he quit playing to eke out an existence as a janitor and amateur card dealer. He and his wife, Alice, lived in various apartments on Rampart Street.

In early 1971, two hippies showed up at his door — Quint Davis, whose hair in those days fell past his shoulders, and Allison Miner.

The previous year, legendary East Coast festival promoter George Wein had produced the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in the Municipal Auditorium and on the grounds of what is now Armstrong Park. Wein enlisted Davis and Miner, college students who were way into indigenous New Orleans music, to help find performers.

One afternoon, Wein and Davis heard "Go to the Mardi Gras" on a jukebox. As Davis tells the story, "George says, 'Who's that?' And I said, 'It's not anybody. It's just a song that comes on every year at Mardi Gras.' And George said, 'Well, it's somebody. You find that guy.' ”

Longhair proved hard to find. Destitute and in poor health, his best days seemed far behind him. But Davis managed to track him down and book him for the second Jazz Fest.

The 1971 festival was still in Armstrong Park; Longhair walked to the gig. With that, his revival was on.

+6 
Henry Roeland Byrd "Professor Longhair" at the New Orleans Jazz Festival

View of Professor Longhair (1918-1980) performing at the 1977 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

With Davis and Miner acting as his managers, he started performing regularly again. He and Davis hit the road, traveling in a green station wagon and sleeping on floors. Longhair recorded new albums that attracted new fans nationally and overseas.

By 1973, he was hanging out with members of Led Zeppelin, who requested he perform at a New Orleans party in their honor, and Paul and Linda McCartney. A coalition of local fans launched Tipitina’s in part to be Longhair’s local base of operations.

Finally, he was making a steady, if not extravagant, living as a musician. In 1979, he bought an old, ramshackle two-story house at 1738 Terpsichore St. in Central City, the first house he ever owned.

+6 
lls_longhair

Professor Longhair's renovated home on Terpsichore Street.

In 1980, the acclaimed Chicago blues label Alligator Records was set to release a strong new Longhair album, “Crawfish Fiesta.” To promote the record, a tour was booked with the British punk band the Clash, whose members had an affinity for “authentic” American roots artists. Longhair likely would have played for some of the largest audiences of his life.

Additionally, the “Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together” project had paired him with Washington, one of his predecessors, and Toussaint, one of his disciples, establishing Longhair’s place in the New Orleans piano firmament.

But early on the morning of Jan. 30, 1980, after eating a late-night meal of red beans, spaghetti, cornbread and Barq’s root beer with his 3-year-old grandson, Longhair was found unresponsive in his bed. His death at age 61 was attributed to natural causes, a conspiracy of various health issues. Thousands of mourners turned out for his funeral procession.

In 1987, a collection of his early recordings called "House Party New Orleans Style" earned him a posthumous Grammy Award. In 1992, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence. In 1999, Jazz Fest featured him on the festival's 30th anniversary commemorative poster.

More recently, friends and fans raised money so Pat Byrd could restore the Terpsichore house as a sort of shrine to her father.

Jazz Fest, like Tipitina’s, serves as a living memorial for Longhair. The release of “Fess Up,” which reintroduces the hard-to-find “Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together” for a new audience, should bring renewed attention to one of New Orleans music’s great talents.

Because Longhair’s birthday is in December, he would not have turned 100 in time for Sunday’s “centennial” tribute. “In Jazz Fest years,” Davis said this week, “he’s 99.”

In Jazz Fest years, he’s actually timeless.

Coming to Jazz Fest? Everything to know about this celebration of all things New Orleans

Metal detectors to make Jazz Fest debut this weekend; here's what to expect

WWOZ Piano Night returns to its roots, keeping the spirit of Professor Longhair alive

Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera.

Keith Spera writes about music, culture and his kids.