The music community is mourning the loss of New Orlean’s music icon Allen Toussaint. He was so many things to so many people: a performer, a producer, writer of classic songs like “Fortune Teller,” “Here Come the Girls,” “Southern Nights,” and “Working in the Coalmine.” He was a pillar of strength during the dark days of Hurricane Katrina. He’s played a major role on the cultural landscape, but he also played a big part in my own life.
When I was in the fourth grade, my nine-year-old adolescent self dreamed of being a star. When I wasn’t in school, I was studying music videos and Broadway musicals so that I could perform renditions for my parents. My cousins and I created a group to rehearse and play around, but nothing ever came from it. But my performing skills were truly nurtured when I entered Ms. Khadija’s class at St. Leo The Great in New Orleans. Ms. Khadija was the Director of Performing Arts, and she was the first person (besides my parents) who encouraged me to follow my dreams. I vividly remember working my ass off to impress her.
Each year, my elementary school would hold auditions for our annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival performance. The Grand Marshall at our tent that year just happened to be Allen Toussaint. I had no clue who he was at the time, but I knew he was a big deal. I remember singing and dancing my little heart out that day, with hopes that someone would notice. The next week at school Ms. Khadija reached out to my parents and told them Mr. Toussaint himself had noticed—and he would like to meet with me!
My heart filled with excitement. I truly believed I was on my way to stardom! I begged and begged my parents to follow up on his outreach, but unfortunately they didn’t. To this day I’m not quite sure why. I remember my dad driving me past his music studio in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, but we never went in. Even now, a part of me still holds a grudge against my parents for not taking me to meet with him. My mother’s response was always “If it was to meant to be it would of been,” even though I don’t necessarily agree.
As the years went by, my belief that Allen Toussaint could make me a star transformed into something of a pipe dream. But I always kept the memory with me. Every time I have to perform, I perform like I’m auditioning for Mr. Toussaint.
I remember crying watching the 2009 Grammy Awards during Lil Wayne’s “Tie My Hands” performance. I was so proud to be from New Orleans that night when Weezy brought out Allen Toussaint, Robin Thicke, Terrance Blanchard, and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band to pay tribute to my city in front of millions of viewers.
I always thought I’d somehow cross paths with Mr. Toussaint again, and I’d be able to share this story. I would be able to tell him that I’ve been preparing for my audition for almost 20 years! I’m saddened to hear the news that the man who inspired me to always give my best performance has passed away. But his belief in me continues to inspire me, as does his timeless music. Thank you, Mr. Toussaint.