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The Great New Orleans Composer
This clip is an excerpt from Wardell Quezergue's segment of the "2007 Community Arts Awards Video" presented by the Arts Council of New Orleans, produced by Robbie Denny and filmed and edited by Donna Schlaudecker.
Wardell Quezergue (March 12, 1930 – September 6, 2011) was an American music arranger, producer and bandleader, known among New Orleans musicians as the “Creole Beethoven”. Wardell was born into a musical family with his father, Sidney Quezergue Sr., being a guitar player. Wardell was the second youngest of three brothers: Sidney Quezergue Jr., Leo Quezergue, and Alden Quezergue. His oldest two brothers, Sidney (Trumpet) and Leo (Drums), were jazz musicians as well.
After playing with Dave Bartholomew’s band from the late 1940s and serving as an army musician in Korea, he emerged as a bandleader in his own right in the mid-1950s with his Royal Dukes of Rhythm. He also worked as an arranger with the cream of New Orleans musicians, including Professor Longhair and Fats Domino.
In 1964 he formed Nola Records, and Robert Parker’s “Barefootin’” from the label reached number 2 on the R&B chart. Other artists on the label include Eddie Bo, Willie Tee and Smokey Johnson. Later on he recorded King Floyd’s “Groove Me” and Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff” and, when major labels including Stax and Atlantic initially rejected them as uncommercial, he took them to then-struggling Malaco Records, from where they became major national hits.
As a result of these successes, Quezergue’s skills as an arranger, and Malaco’s studios, became in demand in the 1970s, and were used by artists as diverse as Paul Simon, Willie Nelson and B. B. King. He also worked with G.C. Cameron, former lead singer of The Spinners, who is presently a member of The Temptations.
He also produced and arranged the Grammy Award-winning Dr. John album Goin' Back to New Orleans in 1992. Already an award winning classical composer and conductor, in 2000 he created an extended composition entitled "A Creole Mass", drawing on his experiences in the Korean War.
In 2005, by now legally blind, he lost most of his belongings as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The following year, benefit concerts on his behalf were led by Dr. John, with support including REM’s Mike Mills.
In May 2009, Wardell Quezergue received an honorary doctorate from Loyola University New Orleans for his selfless dedication to enhancing the careers of others, while remaining in the background; for his dedication to teaching others, especially the young aspiring musicians of the city, leading many great New Orleans musicians to refer to him as "my teacher;" and for his contributions to the sounds of the city, particularly the driving horn sounds of the 60s and 70s, for which New Orleans music became known.
On July 19, 2009, a tribute was made to Wardell Quezergue, Sr. at the Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. By all standards, the show was a triumph, its concept begot from Dr. Ike and the Ponderosa Stomp crew. A nine-piece band was assembled and imported from New Orleans to back up singers like Dr. John, Robert Parker, Jean Knight and The Dixie Cups, just to name a few.
Veteran writer/arranger/bandleader/producer Quezergue showed everyone that he still has it as he conducted the whole concert.
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