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Professor Longhair

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Henry Roeland “Roy” Byrd (December 19, 1918 – January 30, 1980), better known as Professor Longhair also known as “Fess”, was a New Orleans rhythm & blues singer and pianist. Professor Longhair is noteworthy for having been active in two distinct periods, both in the heyday of early rhythm and blues, and in the resurgence of interest in traditional jazz after the founding of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Professor Longhair was born on December 19, 1918 in Bogalusa, Louisiana. He made a living as a street hustler until he started to play piano seriously in his thirties. He taught himself how to play on a piano with missing keys so his style became distinct.
He began his career in New Orleans in 1948, earning a gig at the Caldonia Club, where the owner, Mike Tessitore, bestowed Longhair with his stage name (due to Byrd’s shaggy coiffure). Longhair first recorded in 1949, creating four songs (including the first version of his signature song, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” complete with whistled intro) for the Dallas, Texas based Star Talent label. His band was called the Shuffling Hungarians, for reasons lost to time. Union problems curtailed their release, but Longhair’s next effort for Mercury Records the same year was a winner. Throughout the 1950s, he recorded for Atlantic Records, Federal Records and other, local, labels.

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