Dr. John’s Memorial Totem Unveiled at Jazz Fest — “Mac Was a Genius” | Louisiana Festivals


On Saturday afternoon at Jazz Fest, upbeat piano music blared near Congo Square as a circle of fans gathered to remember one of New Orleans’ most beloved native sons. Rhythm and blues maestro Mac Rebennack died aged 77 on June 6, 2019.

That means he missed the 2020 presidential election, the ensuing capital riot, and the war in Ukraine. Imagine this, Dr. John never heard of this whole coronavirus pandemic thing. It’s a shame in a way, because he would have mispronounced it better than anyone on the planet. As devotees of Dr. John fondly remember, he was known for his playful and poetic improvisations of the English language.

COVID has made Jazz Fest impossible in 2020 and 2021, which has postponed the addition of Dr John to the ‘Ancestors’ exhibit, a range of plywood cutouts that commemorate deceased stars and others who have contributed to the festival half a century old.

“Mac was a genius, a musical genius, a unique personality and had a unique language,” festival producer Quint Davis said at the unveiling ceremony.

Fans gather for the unveiling of a tribute totem to the late Dr John at the ‘Ancestors’ memorial at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival

Cheers went up as the black cloth was removed from Dr. John’s tribute totem. Artist Philip Cooper had rendered the musician dark and somewhat sinister in mood, befitting the spooky, voodoo persona Rebennack adopted in the late 1960s – neophyte music lovers in New Orleans should look for “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” from this minute.

Given that everything that happens in New Orleans is tied to everything that happens in New Orleans, it’s no surprise that Cooper said his portrayal of Dr. John was enhanced thanks to the update. in coronavirus quarantine. Cooper works for Stronghold Studios, the company that produces all of the Fest artwork – the portrait of Professor Longhair on the Festival stage, for example.

When COVID made carnival parades impossible in 2021, Stronghold turned to the house float business, helping homeowners convert their property into elaborate stationary Mardi Gras displays. Cooper said rendering exacting portraits of Dolly Parton, Stacey Abrams and others to decorate the house floats prepared him to paint a portrait of the good doctor that was better than anything he could have done earlier. .


Artist Philip Cooper with his totem tribute to the late Dr John at the ‘Ancestors’ Memorial at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Dr. John isn’t the only star whose entry to the Ancestors Memorial has been delayed or threatened by the COVID shutdown. the founder of the Fest, George Wein, who died in 2021; jazz pianist and musical family patriarch Ellis Marsalis Jr., who died in 2020; and funk masters Charles and Art Neville, who died in 2018 and 2019 respectively, will all be honored with places in the exhibition, which has a tone that’s part street art and part graveyard.

Toward the end of Saturday’s ceremony, Dr. John’s daughter, Carla Pratt, said her father’s “wish for all of you would be to keep New Orleans music going and have a blessed day.”


Carla Pratt views the tribute totem dedicated to her father, the late Dr. John, at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival’s “Ancestors” memorial.

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