This week marks what would have been the birthday of "Sweet Emma" Barrett, one of the most colorful and memorable figures in New Orleans jazz. Born on March 25, 1897, Barrett was best known for her stint later in life as a pianist and singer with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but her career began much earlier.
"Sweet Emma" was known for her distinctive (some might say eccentric) appearance, frequently wearing a red skullcap and garters with bells that jingled as she played. A trailblazing woman in jazz, she was self- taught and could not read music, but performed and recorded extensively with bands including the Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra. She made some early recordings and performed alongside music notables such as Oscar "Papa" Celestin, Armand Piron and Paul Barbarin. Like many other early jazz musicians, Barrett found a second career in the 1960s with Preservation Hall and traveled the world with the band. Her version of "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home," is particularly memorable. Barrett died in 1983 at age 79.