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Outspoken New Orleans jazz drummer, band leader

Updated: December 20, 2012 6:09AM

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans jazz band leader and drummer Robert “Bob” French Sr. has died after a long illness. He was 74.

The Times-Picayune reported Mr. French was the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band drummer and band leader and an oftentimes outspoken and controversial deejay at WWOZ-FM. He last performed with the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band in the summer of 2011.

Afflicted with dementia and suffering from diabetes-related complications, he then moved into an assisted-living facility.

He died last Monday.

Mr. French grew up immersed in the traditional sounds of New Orleans. His father, banjo player Albert “Papa” French, took over the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band in the 1950s after the death of Oscar “Papa” Celestin, who founded the group in 1910. As a young man, Mr. French rejected his father’s music in favor of rhythm and blues. His first gig in 1954 included Art and Charles Neville and piano wizard James Booker.

After his retirement in 2011, his nephew, Gerald French, took over the drum chair and leadership of the band.

Following Hurricane Katrina, Mr. French used his position at WWOZ as a bully pulpit to berate elected officials he believed let the city down. Both on air and onstage, he returned to similar themes. “In God we trust, all others pay cash” was a favorite expression. He often referenced red beans as an indicator of his economic status or as an inducement for fans to buy CDs.

Survivors include two brothers, George and Albert French; and four children. A visitation/celebration of his life is scheduled for Saturday in the chapel at D.W. Rhodes Funeral Home in New Orleans. Per Mr. French’s wishes, there will be no formal funeral service and no official memorial second-line jazz funeral.


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