“Allen didn’t have a song. He was the song.”
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports on its website that a tribute to New Orleans composer, producer and performer Allen Toussaint at the Orpheum Theater on Friday November 20 drew 1,500 to 2,000 relatives, friends and fans.
Toussaint passed away in Madrid, Spain on November 10, while on tour.
A single file of mourners filed past Toussaint’s closed casket at the front of the Orpheum stage from 8.00am and eventually filled the theater before the concert tribute began.
Robbie Robertson, who collaborated with Toussaint in the days when the New Orleans legend worked on horn arrangements for The Band, said that Toussaint was ‘the first to rise when a lady entered the room and first to light her cigarette (back when everybody smoked cigarettes)’.
“You don’t know how I feel right now,” said Toussaint’s close friend Irma Thomas prior to singing the gospel ballad ‘Walk Around Heaven All Day.’
“When God’s ready, he’s ready,” she said noting Toussaint’s untimely death by heart attack at age 77.
Also in attendance were an array of New Orleans musicians including Dr John, Pete Fountain, Troy ‘Trombone Shorty’ Andrews, Deacon John, Cyril Neville, Leo Nocentelli of The Meters, along with Boz Scaggs, Jimmy Buffett, Elvis Costello and Arcade Fire front man Win Butler.
As part of the tributes paid to Toussaint by his colleagues and friends, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival producer Quint Davis said, “Losing Allen is the New Orleans musical Katrina; we’ll recover, but it will never be the same.”
“We haven’t had a greater godfather,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who compared Toussaint’s stature to essential city icons as the French Quarter, St. Louis Cathedral and the Superdome.
Also speaking were Elvis Costello who said that Toussaint was “an elegant prince, gracious, ever curious about what came next” and Boz Scaggs, who noted that when Toussaint played it was “a master class in mastery and class.”
Pastor Michael Green of LifeGate Church, who followed Scaggs, said that, “Allen didn’t have a song. He was the song.”
The musical contributions included ‘Let’s Live’ by Cyril Neville, ‘Any Day Now’ by Deacon John, ‘Southern Nights’ by pianist Davell Crawford, ‘All These Things’ by John Boutte and Jimmy Buffett with ‘Fortune Teller,’ the first song he said he ever learned to play. Dr. John with ‘Life,’ while Boz Scaggs performed ‘What Do You Want the Girl to Do,’ backed by Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen.
The memorial celebration ended with the ensemble singing ‘I’ll Fly Away’ along with The Preservation Hall Brass Band.
Elton John sent an arrangement of white orchids. “Thank you for all the music and for being such a gentleman,” read the card. “Nobody played like you. A true inspiration. Love, Elton.”
Toussaint was buried at a private funeral was on Saturday, November 21.