Allen Toussaint, New Orleans R&B Pioneer, Dies at 77

Allen Toussaint, the songwriter-composer behind such hits as “Working in the Coal Mine” and “The Fortune Teller,” died Monday following a concert in Madrid, according to various news sources. He was 77.

According to the New York Times, his daughter, Alison Toussaint-LeBeaux, confirmed his death in an email, and stated that the cause appeared to be a heart attack. The Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported that Toussaint had collapsed at his hotel after the show and was taken to the hospital.
A towering figure in the New Orleans music scene, Toussaint was born in the Big Easy neighborhood of Gert Town, and learned to play piano at an early age. He first recorded an instrumental album for RCA Victor as Al Tousan, creating a hit for the trumpeter Al Hirt in the process, titled “Java,” in 1964.

During the ’60s he wrote and produced a number of hits for the likes of Aaron Neville, Otis Redding, the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. “The Fortune Teller” alone was covered by the Stones, the Who, the Hollies and Allison Krauss and Robert Plant, among others. Hundred of records during the decade would also benefit from Toussaint’s piano and arrangements.

Later on, the O’Jays, Ringo Starr and Alex Chilton would take advantage of Toussaint’s song craft with their versions of “Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette).”

In the ’70s he wrote and produced for Dr. John, B.J. Thomas, Boz Scaggs and the Band, for whom he arranged the horn parts on “Cahoots,” “Rock of Ages” and “The Last Waltz.” He co-founded Sea-Saint Studios in 1972, where such talents as Paul McCartney and Paul Simon recorded.

His own solo career peaked in the decade with the albums “From a Whisper to a Scream” and “Southern Nights.” He also teamed with Patti Labelle, producing the album “Nightbirds,” resulting in the No. 1 hit “Lady Marmalade.” Glen Campbell also had a No. 1 hit when he covered Toussaint’s “Southern Nights” on the pop, country and adult-contemporary charts.

In 1998, Toussaint was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2011 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Toussaint eventually settled in New York City, where he appeared regularly at Joe’s Pub.

His album with Elvis Costello, “The River in Reverse” (2006), is credited as the first major studio session to be recorded in New Orleans post Katrina.

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