New Orleans music legend Allen Toussaint died Monday night in Madrid, Spain, aged 77. The revered pianist/composer/producer suffered a heart attack just after coming offstage at Madrid’s Teatro Lara. A second heart attack, suffered while en route to the hospital, took his life.
Toussaint’s profile as a musician, songwriter, producer and activist had been significantly raised over the past decade or so due to his collaborations with artists like Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney, as well as his fundraising efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Ultimately, in 2013, Toussaint, received the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor that can be awarded to an American artist.
While Toussaint may have finally gotten his due in recent decades, he had been one of the leading lights of the fabled New Orleans R&B sound for decades. Born in 1938 in the Crescent City, Toussaint began playing piano at an early age. After getting his first break filling in at a session for an absent Fats Domino, Toussaint went on to write hits for the likes of Irma Thomas and Lee Dorsey. Later, his songs were discovered and covered by artists like the Rolling Stones, Robert Plant and the Doors. Throughout it all, you may not have known Toussaint’s name, but you certainly knew his songs.
For more on Toussaint, read Elmore’s in-depth interview.