Columns » The State of the State by Jeremy Alford

Sounds of the Kingfish

Huey Long's legacy is still going strong in Louisiana, and now his songwriting abilities are taking center stage as well.

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Why weep or slumber America

Land of brave and true

With castles and clothing and food for all

All belongs to you

Ev'ry man a King, ev'ry man a King

For you can be a millionaire

But there's something belonging to others

There's enough for all people to share

When it's sunny June and December too

Or in the Winter time or Spring

There'll be peace without end

Ev'ry neighbor a friend

With ev'ry man a King

— "Every Man A King" by Huey Long and Castro Carazo

The way T. Harry Williams tells it, Huey Long snuck in through the kitchen, even though he didn't need to sneak around anywhere, especially at New Orleans' famed Roosevelt Hotel, which was run and operated during the 1930s by Seymour Weiss, a top-tier Longite. Nonetheless, Long moved through the kitchen unnoticed and made his way to the Blue Room. He took a seat, crossed his legs, maybe bouncing a foot to the beat of the rehearsing orchestra. But as was the case in most situations, Long wasn't completely happy unless he was in control.

  When it came to the music that filled the Blue Room in those days, the control belonged to bandleader Castro Carazo, and that's where Long directed his attention. "Can I direct them, Castro?" he asked. Knowing his place, Carazo stepped aside, and with Long at the helm, the orchestra played brilliantly through a series of numbers — chiefly because they had been practicing.

  Aside from being yet another classic anecdote involving the Kingfish, it was the precise moment that Huey Long met Castro Carazo. It would prove to be the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership, albeit one that ended before its time.

  The Long/Carazo team left such a lasting impact, in fact, that the minds behind the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame created a new category earlier this month just for songwriters, and the two men became the first honorees. Granted, former Gov. Jimmie Davis of "You Are My Sunshine" fame made it into the Hall of Fame first, but that was as a performer.

  Long and Carazo may be best known for composing "Every Man a King" in less than 45 minutes one night in Baton Rouge. It was to serve as Long's presidential campaign song, but that never came to be, just like his promise to Carazo to make him director of the U.S. Marine Band once he won the White House.

  "The only thing that kept Long and Carazo from generating more material was the untimely assassination of the senator in 1935," says Mike Shepherd, executive director of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. "Who knows what else those two would have come up with had Huey survived? He understood how music can inspire and drive an idea, and his anthem, 'Every Man a King,' was written with Carazo in 1934 as a possible presidential campaign theme song."

  Instead of directing the Marine band, Carazo had to settle for purple and gold. As the story goes, Long literally recruited Carazo off the bandstand at the Roosevelt Hotel's Blue Room, telling him, "You are now the bandleader at LSU; come with me, we're returning to LSU." Staying on theme, the pair went on to compose such south Louisiana standards as "Touchdown for LSU," "Darling of LSU," "LSU Cadets March" and "Miss Vandy: Dedicated to the Coeds of Vanderbilt University."

  Shepherd says Long and Carazo also were responsible for transforming the LSU Tiger Band from a military band to a show band with its own style, and as such provided the basis for all of the achievements that would follow for "The Golden Band from Tigerland."

  Long in particular initiated a massive increase in the band's membership to nearly 250 and saw to it that its traditional military dress was replaced with showier uniforms in the school's colors of purple and gold. Within a few years of making these changes, however, many of the Long-backed improvements were reversed as part of a backlash against the Kingfish's control over LSU. As a result, Carazo was fired and military uniforms were reinstated. The Long/Carazo legacy of LSU show bands returned after World War II.

  While stories about the Kingfish are endless, the average Louisianan probably knows considerably less about Carazo. In 1937, Carazo also wrote the music to "Fight for LSU," the official fight song of the university, with lyrics provided by W.G. "Hickey" Higganbotham. After his six-year stint as LSU's bandmaster from 1934-1940, Carazo, known to many as "Professor," continued to write music in a wide array of styles: light classical, traditional marches, jazz and Cuban/Latin dance music. He achieved success with "Bonita," a Latin-themed song with words by Sam Lewis, a prolific Broadway and popular-music lyricist. Carazo also wrote "National Guard March," officially adopted by the U.S. National Guard, and "R.O.T.C. Cadets March." In 1952, his song "Louisiana My Home Sweet Home" was adopted as the official state march song.

  Carazo remained a figure in Long's life right up to the Kingfish's assassination and was among the last people to meet privately with the storied governor before the shots that killed him were fired inside the State Capitol. During that final meeting, Carazo urged Long to create a special state school of music for kids who weren't in college and those who couldn't afford a traditional education. A series of bullets may have brought an end to that concept and to Long's life, but it's reassuring to know that the music both men created is still being celebrated today.

Jeremy Alford can be reached at jeremy@jeremyalford.com.

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