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DR. JOHN, 1941-2019

Dr. John, the New Orleans pianist best-known for marrying the city’s musical legacies with rock ‘n’ roll, died Thursday of a heart attack. He was 77.

A statement on his social media pages read, “The family thanks all whom shared his unique musical journey & requests privacy at this time. Memorial arrangements will be announced in due course.”

Born Malcolm John Rebennack Jr., he gained fame in the persona of Dr. John the Night Tripper, an exotically costumed character leading a voodoo-inspired musical celebration during an era when rock musicians had dropped all pretense of a show. His star turn followed a lengthy career as a studio musician, first in New Orleans and then in Los Angeles where he played guitar, piano and organ on sessions for Phil SpectorThe Rolling StonesAretha Franklin and others.

His commercial success on radio came with is fifth album, In the Right Place (Atco), which went Top 30 and yielded two hit singles, the title track and “Such a Night.” Only his 2012 album produced by Dan AuerbachLocked Down, reached the Top 40.

Over a 50 year career, however, Dr. John emerged as an oracle for the pianists who preceded him—chiefly Professor LonghairJames Booker and Tuts Washington—bringing their regional style to a young, white audience. He paid tribute to the city on multiple albums, beginning with Gumbo in 1972 and including two albums of solo piano, 1992’s Goin’ Back to New Orleans, and 2004’s N’Awlinz Dis Dat or d’Udda.

Beyond albums of funk-oriented rock ‘n’ roll, he paid tribute to songwriters of the Great American Songbook on albums such as 1995’s 1989’s In a Sentimental Mood and 1995’s Afterglow and recorded discs dedicated to the music of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

Collectively, and in tandem with a near non-stop touring schedule, Dr. John ultimately became one of New Orleans’ greatest musical export—not only a proponent of the city’s rich musical history but a creator with a repertoire that stretched the idea of what it meant to be a New Orleans musician.

He would receive six Grammy Awards, beginning with Best Jazz Vocal Performance for his 1989 duet with Rickie Lee Jones on “Makin’ Whoopee.” His musical treatise on post- Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, 2008’s City That Care Forgot, and Locked Down won Grammys in the blues categories.

“Malcolm John Rebennack Jr.—known to most as Dr. John—was a radiant singer, songwriter, and pianist whose career in music made him a New Orleans icon and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer,” said Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow. “His funky approach to blending musical styles and imaginative persona helped diversify the New Orleans Sound, which was on full display during an energetic performance with The Black Keys at the 55th Grammy Awards. This is a great loss for our industry and Dr. John will be deeply missed.”  

 

 

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