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Bourbon Street Parade

For 25 years, Al Broussard was one of the brightest lights in the French Quarter. Last week, he made a final return trip.

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The lights of Bourbon Street seemed to dim a bit with the passing of one of its most sparkling entertainers. Pianist and vocalist Al Broussard, who first played "the street" in 1925 and spent a quarter-century charming audiences at the Tricou House (previously the 711 Club), died Aug. 5 at the age of 95.

As Broussard liked to say, he was born on Orleans Avenue in New Orleans in Orleans Parish. He began his career as a young boy playing solo piano at house parties, later moving on to perform at Storyville clubs such as the Big 25 and the Two Black Crows. "I could sing before I could play the piano," Broussard said last April, just before his big 95th birthday bash at the Tricou House. "What people don't realize is that we didn't have no radio or television. Somebody had to whistle a song for you or sing it."

Broussard headed his own orchestra in the mid-1920s, but he was best known for reigning from center stage, alone at a piano. Wearing his signature red-orange fedora with matching suspenders, the always-youthful Broussard offered -- as the title of his 1984 Rabadash album says -- The Music of a Lifetime at his regular Bourbon Street gig. Between a blend of ragtime, jazz, blues, stride and boogie-woogie numbers, he told stories, chatted with his admirers, and flirted with the women in the audience.

In the early 1940s, Broussard stepped away from the music business and opened a junkyard, continuing to play a piano that he kept amidst the scrap iron. He once remembered how piano legend Professor Longhair used to visit him there and play the old upright. Broussard returned to music by launching his long-running gig at the 711, now the Tricou House.

Until a car accident several years ago, Broussard would amaze onlookers by arriving at his job at the Tricou House via moped. And it was last month at the Tricou House that Broussard was first struck down. Later that week, he called the club from the hospital. "I had a heart attack after the last note of the last song of the last gig of the weekend," he said. Broussard added that at the time he thought he was simply suffering "indigestion and a little bit of the blues."

Last week, during the Aug. 11 jazz funeral procession in his honor, Broussard paid a last visit to the Tricou House. The horse-drawn hearse pulled to a stop at the club, where owner Fred Hendrix stood on the balcony and told a few wonderful stories about the entertainer. He remembered Broussard telling him that one of his secrets to longevity was to drink only good liquor. With that advice in mind, Hendrix declared he'd take a drink of Johnny Walker Red for himself and one for Al. He raised his glass and chugged down the first shot -- and after refilling it, proceeded to pour the glass' contents down onto the sidewalk below.

Friends and family cheered before they resumed behind the Treme Brass Band, on the procession that would finally take Broussard away from Bourbon Street.

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