This week brought mixed news on the preservation of New Orleans’ music traditions. On the upside, the late Ernie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge will reportedly be reopened by Mardi Gras. And sadly, urban renewal efforts claimed the boyhood home of traditional jazz pioneer Sidney Bechet.
On the positive side, the Times-Picayune yesterday reported that trumpet player Kermit Ruffins has agreed to lease the Mother-in-Law Lounge, the colorful, but ramshackle bar on Claiborne Avenue. Named for K-Doe’s big hit, “Mother-in-Law,” the bar passed to his widow Antoinette after he died in 2001. She ran it as a bar and museum honoring her eccentric husband until her death, on Mardi Gras morning 2009. Her daughter tried to keep it open, but it finally closed its doors in 2010, when most of Ernie K-Doe’s memorabilia was auctioned off to cover expenses.
Ruffins, one of the co-founders of Rebirth Brass Band and part-time star (playing himself) of the HBO series, “Treme,” jumped at the chance to lease the musical landmark. Ruffins has not decided what to call his new bar, but he plans for it to feature as much music as possible. And while the name will probably change, Ruffins will do nothing to alter Daniel Fusilier’s colorful murals of Ernie K-Doe and other subjects which are featured the two-story structure’s exterior.
On a more somber note, another music landmark recently fell victim to a political promise. When elected in February 2010, Mayor Mitch Landrieau promised to speed the clearing of abandoned houses throughout the city. Most remained unoccupied in the wake of flooding from Hurricane Katrina. In many cases, these suffered structures suffered from catastrophic flood and termite damage. And in many instances, owners did not appear at hearings to stop demolition.
Unfortunately, the same fate befell the boyhood home of Sidney Bechet, the great New Orleans clarinet and soprano saxophone master. Between 1907 and 1914, Bechet and his family lived in the shotgun house on Marais Street in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward. Bechet, went on to renown throughout the United States and Europe. Even so, his former home fell into disrepair, although it remained occupied up until Hurricane Katrina.
City officials pointed out that the owner never came forward to contest the demolition and that the roof had caved in. Nevertheless, historians and preservationists bemoan the loss of yet another historical landmark.