Toussaint had a long and fertile career collaborating and working with other artists

By Alex Heigl
Updated November 10, 2015 12:50 PM
Credit: Gilles Petard/Redferns

Allen Toussaint, a legendary fixture of New Orleans music – both in the city as a representative of its distinctive sound – died Monday at 77.

While Toussaint wasn’t quite a household name as other Crescent City notables like the Marsalis family or Dr. John, he contributed arguably as much as any other New Orleans musician, through a busy schedule of performance, production, songwriting and arranging for other artists.

Toussaint was born in 1938 and taught himself piano. He released his first album in 1958 and by 1960 was the house producer, arranger and songwriter for New Orleans’ Minit Label. After briefly serving in the Army, he returned to music in 1965. By that time, one of his songs, “Fortune Teller,” had become something of a British Invasion standard, recorded by the Who and the Rolling Stones.

“I was so glad when the Stones recorded my song, Toussaint told the U.K. Telegraph.” I knew they would know how to roll it all the way to the bank.”

By 1972, Toussaint had co-founded Sea-Saint Studios, at which Paul Simon, Paul McCartney and many others recorded. He was an in-demand arranger at this point, too, adding sumptuous horn parts to releases by The Band for their live album, 1972 Rock of Ages, a role he’d resume for their 1978 farewell concert, The Last Waltz.

In 1975, Toussaint produced Patti Labelle‘s iconic version of “Lady Marmalade” (a song written about New Orleans’ women of the night)

and in 1977, his song “Southern Nights” was recorded by Glen Campbell, eventually reaching number one on the Billboard Hot Country Singles, Hot 100 and Hot Adult Contemporary charts.

Displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Toussaint settled in New York, and released an acclaimed contribution with Elvis Costello, The River in Reverse, the next year.

In 2010, Toussaint appeared on Eric Clapton‘s self-titled album, covering two Fats Waller songs, “My Very Good Friend the Milkman” and “When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful.”

Fans of the HBO series Treme would also recognize Toussaint from the several appearances he made on the series playing himself.

Tributes have poured in from a variety of musicians following news of Toussaint’s death, including the Rolling Stones

New Orleans’ own Harry Connick, Jr.

And Spinal Tap/Simpsons actor Harry Shearer.