Legendary saxophonist and longtime University of New Orleans jazz studies faculty member Harold Battiste Jr. died on June 19 at the age of 83. Battiste, a New Orleans native who also made his name as an influential pianist, producer and arranger, was an original member of the jazz studies faculty, under the direction of founder Ellis Marsalis. Battiste was a fixture on the Lakefront campus, teaching at UNO from 1989 to 2006.
"As a colleague at the University of New Orleans since the early 90s, I was exposed to the wisdom and musical genius of Harold Battiste," said Steve Masakowski, professor of music and the Coca-Cola Endowed Chair of Jazz Studies. "I have always considered him to be a mentor and a musical inspiration. He served as a father figure to many of the young musicians that came through the jazz studies program, offering them timeless life lessons. His contribution of 'The Silverbook,' which documents the music of the New Orleans modern jazz masters of his era, continues to be a valued resource for our music program. Harold Battiste was an extraordinary musician, composer and educator whose name will be recognized among the great contributors to New Orleans music."
Battiste's internationally-recognized career also included founding the first African-American musician-owned record label, All for One, commonly known as AFO Records. The record label, founded in 1961, produced a million-selling hit single, Barbara George's "I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)" within the first few months.
Battiste also produced recordings by Sam Cooke, including "You Send Me," Battiste's first studio arrangement, cut in 1957. Throughout his long and illustrious musical career, he served as a producer and arranger for studio, film, stage and television. Highlights include Joe Jones' "You Talk Too Much," Lee Dorsey's "Ya Ya," and Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe." Battiste introduced artist Mac Rebennack as Dr. John and produced his earliest albums.
Battiste spent 30 years in Los Angeles, including 15 years working for Sonny and Cher, earning six gold records and serving as musical director for their TV series, "The Sonny and Cher Show." Battiste also accompanied musician Tom Waits on piano for top hits "Whistlin' Past The Graveyard" and "A Sweet Little Bullet from a Pretty Blue Gun," both of which were recorded on Waits' Blue Valentine album, released in 1978.
Battiste, who graduated from Dillard University, established the AFO Foundation, described as a nonprofit service and educational organization "dedicated to recognizing, perpetuating and documenting the heritage of New Orleans music and the people who make the music."
Battiste served as a board member of the Congo Square Cultural Collective, the Louisiana State Music Commission, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, Louisiana Jazz Federation, the African Cultural Endowment and numerous other cultural organizations. He received the Beaux Arts Award, the Mayor's Arts Award, the Governor's Arts Lifetime Achievement Award and many others. In 2010 the Historic New Orleans Collection published his autobiography "Unfinished Blues," co-authored by UNO alumna Karen Celestan.
Battiste's funeral will be held on Thursday, June 25, at 10 a.m. in the Christian Unity Baptist Church, 1700 Conti St. in New Orleans.