Superstar performers remember Allen Toussaint through music

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A true professor on the keys and a legend with a pen, Allen Toussaint's passion for New Orleans musicians is as clear as the tunes that came off the ivories he played and the people he touched are just as resonant.

"We lost a great musician and a great A&R man," Clarence "Frogman" Henry said. "I remember when he lived on Urquhart Street with his momma and that's the first time I went over there, he was practicing his piano, he loved his piano."

Henry remembers Toussaint as a man who helped his career, but also boosted the careers of fellow musicians across the Crescent City.

"Allen wasn't a guy who was all for Allen, he wanted to progress and do things for entertainers in New Orleans," Henry said.

Irma Thomas credits several of her hits to Toussaint, who she says was the pen to her pipes, often writing the perfect song to make her shine.

"We kind of had a common ground where his creativity helped my career and he always said that my voice helped inspire him to write, so I guess that's where the friendship was," Thomas said.

Toussaint was a constant in Thomas' life and quickly became part of her musical family.

"He was like another extended family member because that's how we in the business, back in those days, that's what we did, we gathered in his parents living room to rehearse whatever song he had written for us," Thomas said.

That's the key, the songs Toussaint wrote traveled further than his piano could play, but as his friends say, will forever have a spot in New Orleans lore.

"His music was so New Orleans, but it also so national and so international," Ronnie Kole, a friend and fellow pianist, said.

Kole thinks with Toussaint's passing, Heaven is building quite a band at the pearly gates.

"They'll have a jam session and St. Peter will say, 'I tell you we haven't had a class act like you come here in a long time,' especially not from the music world," Kole joked.

Toussaint's friends find it hard to imagine him gone from the scene, but they said they'll always remember him for his overwhelming humility, his creative composing and his prowess on the piano.

"I don't even know what to say," Kole said as he played a lilt on his piano. "When at a loss for words, just doodle on the piano, I know that's what Allen would do. But now Allen is up there like I say, with Jumbo and Louis and probably trying to tame them all down because he was just the coolest cat in the world, he dressed cool, he spoke cool, and he played hot, gosh, what a talent, what a real talent."

Copyright 2015 WVUE. All rights reserved.