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Donaldsonville. LA dedicates Bicentennial Jazz Plaza
(Published: June 01, 2007)

DONALDSONVILLE — New Orleans, that great cultural well-spring, always dominates Louisiana’s cultural life. Nonetheless, great Louisiana musicians also came from places beyond the Crescent City.

Donaldsonville, located half-way between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, dedicated its Bicentennial Jazz Plaza and first Louisiana historic marker last Saturday. Several of the city’s significant music names were there to celebrate the small town’s big contribution to jazz.

Before the plaza’s dedication, a parade of musicians, many of them cousins, played classic jazz and rhythm-and-blues on a stage at Railroad Avenue and Charles Street.

Performers included Plas Johnson, the saxophonist whose sessions include Henry Mancini’s The Pink Panther theme, the theme from TV’s The Old Couple, Bobby Day’s “Rockin’ Robin” and recordings with Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Nat “King” Cole, Frank Zappa, the Monkees and many more.

Trumpeter and songwriter Renald Richard, lyricist for the Ray Charles hit, “I Got A Woman,” and songs by Big Joe Turner, Guitar Slim and Louis Prima, joined Johnson and a band led by New Orleans traditional jazz guitarist and banjoist Don Vappie.

Other players included former Paul McCartney band member Thaddeus Richard and Bill Summers, a percussionist whose résumé includes Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder and the soundtracks for Roots and The Color Purple.

LSU’s Dr. Joyce Jackson also explained the musical importance of Donaldsonville and the river parishes, origin of jazz pioneers Joe “King” Oliver, Claiborne Williams and George “Pops” Foster.

“Many people from Donaldsonville say they’re from New Orleans because no one knows where Donaldsonville is,” Jackson said.

After a concert filled with swing and soul, attendees second-lined their way to the Bicentennial Jazz Plaza, site of a historic marker featuring the names of Oliver, Williams and others as well as a brick patio with more musicians’ names.

River Road African American Museum director Kathe Hambrick got a big laugh when she explained why Johnson, 75, and Renald Richard, 82, were listed on bricks rather than the historic marker.

“I wanted your names to be on this marker, but the state rules say you have to be dead 50 years!” Hambrick said.

River parishes musicians, she added, who played for jazz funerals and carnival parades in their rural communities, were fully formed before they performed or moved to New Orleans.

“The music that came from our area,” said State Rep. Roy Quezaire, D-Donaldsonville, “beginning right here in the 1800s and 1900s, has been meticulously woven into the American fabric. That’s a lot to be proud of, folks.”

Submitted By: jazzears


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