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Professor Longhair

Pianist, composer, and singer, Professor Longhair, is one of the most important musical figures in New Orleans' rich musical legacy. Born Henry Roeland Byrd (also known as Fess) in Bogalusa, Louisiana on December 19, 1918, he became the embodiment of New Orleans rhythm and blues at his peak in the late '70s. Fess influenced countless musicians, such as Fats Domino, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Henry Butler, Huey "Piano" Smith, Marcia Ball, Champion Jack Dupree, Jon Cleary, the Meters, and the Neville Brothers. His unique style fused diverse elements including blues, barrelhouse boogie-woogie, rock, and gospel, which he combined with calypso, rhumba, and second-line street parade rhythms. His hybrid "rhumba-boogie" piano style, with a heavy, percussive left hand, forever changed the sound of rhythm and blues piano. Fess had a charismatic presence and unflinching soulful quality which pervades his recordings and performances. Few artists embodied his singular quality or have equaled the span of his influence on modern music.

Photograph "Professor Longhair - Tipitina's 1978" (C) by Earl G. Perry, used with permission from the photographer and from SongByrd, Inc.

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