New Orleans music suffered a compound loss this past week with the passing of three fine artists from our treasure chest of soul.
Lower Ninth Ward native Oliver Morgan died July 31 in Atlanta, where he relocated after Katrina. He was best known for his 1963 hit "Who Shot the La-La," a rollicking R&B number made unforgettable by his joyful, rough-edged shout. Morgan recorded his debut single, "Nookie Boy," on Harold Batiste's seminal AFO label in 1961, and hit local pay dirt with his mysterious paean to singer Prince "La La" Nelson, but didn't record a full-length album until 1998's I'm Home for Allen Toussaint's NYNO label. A perennial presence at second-line parades, Morgan toured nationally following his hit (credited to Eddie Bo, although some -- including Morgan -- say he was the song's author) but eventually preferred to remain in New Orleans, where he and his wife were longtime neighbors of Al "Carnival Time" Johnson on Tennessee Street, as well as Fats Domino a few blocks away on Caffin Avenue.
On Aug. 3, saxophonist Earl Turbinton died after a prolonged bout with lung cancer. He was 65. Turbinton was best known for his pioneering modern jazz, and in the '60s, opened a bar the Workshop -- in the French Quarter that he hoped would be a home for experimental music. He also collaborated frequently with other local musicians, including the members of Astral Project and his brother, funk and R&B keyboardist Willie Tee. Turbinton played sax alongside Willie in the seminal local funk gang the Gaturs. In the late '80s, the two recorded the album Brothers For Life together. Referred to -- mostly by himself -- as the "African Cowboy," Turbinton was known for being a deeply spiritual man who marched to the beat of his own drum, though he was influenced by other high-profile experimenters like John Coltrane.
Eluard Burt, a jazz flautist and multi-instrumentalist died at age 70 on Aug. 5. Burt played reeds throughout the '50s with bands like Billy Ward's Dominoes, Big Joe Turner and Chick Willis. In the '60s, he was a bohemian arts and culture innovator, working with spoken word artists and dancers to create multimedia avant-garde jazz performances. For most of his life, Burt was a force in the community, working with children on Afrocentric jazz, poetry, theatre and dance as well as collaborating with luminaries like conga player Uganda Roberts and percussionist Cyril Neville.
Maybe even more sadly, because of Hurricane Katrina's devastation, all three musicians died far from home. They will all be missed.