Fess created his own style on piano and became a Giant

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - Our history of great piano players is about as old as the music in our city.  The names Booker, Toussaint, Fats and Doc come to mind, but few loom over the sound of New Orleans like Fess!

Professor Longhair/ The Michael P. Smith Collection @ The Historic New Orleans Collection

Professor Longhair/ The Michael P. Smith Collection @ The Historic New Orleans Collection

Born Henry Roeland "Roy" Byrd in Bogalusa, Professor Longhair created his own sound with a mixture of R & B, boogie-woogie, and rumba.  Fess cemented his image in our musical history by recording a few of our New Orleans music standards like Tipitina, Big Chief, and Go To The Mardi Gras, but in the 40s, he was helped along by piano legend Tuts Washington.

In the film "Piano Players Rarely Play Together" by Stephenson Palfi, Fess says, "He (Washington) was the first one outside to take enough time with me. (plays piano) "

Professor Longhair in the film "Piano Players Rarely Play Together"

Professor Longhair in the film "Piano Players Rarely Play Together"

Fess basically had two careers, one during the heyday of New Orleans R & B in the 1950s and again later in life with the resurgence of traditional New Orleans music.  At that point, he became the first big closer of The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, even before the Neville Brothers.

"Professor Longhair melded together New Orleans rhythm, blues, R & B, and came up with with this Go To The Mardi Gras and Big Chief, this great New Orleans music. that melded these things together. That's what we thought this festival was about," said Quint Davis of Festival Productions.

Professor Longhair image over the Acura Stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Professor Longhair image over the Acura Stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Fess died in 1980, but his influence on piano players is evident even today.  It's no wonder with the sound he helped created, and images of the man still stand in our city's biggest music venues.

"When you come to the festival, and you go to the Acura Stage, even though it's the Acura Stage, when you look on top, what do you see? You see Professor Longhair at his piano, in his full glory!" Davis said.

Professor Longhair's Daughter Pat Byrd at the Byrd House Museum

Professor Longhair's Daughter Pat Byrd at the Byrd House Museum

Professor Longhair was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame this week, and his daughter Pat Byrd has created a tribute museum to Fess at the Byrd Home in Central City at 1738 Terpischore St.  It's open on weekends.

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