Jessie Hill

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Jessie Hill
Jessie Hill at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, 1996.
Background information
Born(1932-12-09)December 9, 1932
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
DiedSeptember 17, 1996(1996-09-17) (aged 63)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Louisiana blues
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter
Years active1951–1996

Jessie Hill (December 9, 1932 – September 17, 1996) [1] was an American R&B and Louisiana blues[2] singer and songwriter. He was best known for his popular call and response song "Ooh Poo Pah Doo".[1][3] As a singer, he recorded a successful single. In addition to his original, there have been over 100 cover versions made by other artists.

Early life[change | change source]

Hill was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. While still a teenager, he played drums in local bands. In 1951, while still drumming, he started his own group, the House Rockers. At first, Professor Longhair played piano, then later it was Huey "Piano" Smith. Hill got different musicians for the House Rockers in 1958, and started singing.[1]

Career[change | change source]

The idea for the song "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" began from some music played by a local pianist, who had the nickname Big Four. Hill wrote the lyrics and melody. Over time, while performing it on stage, it became a longer song. Hill also added an opening part written by Dave Bartholomew. In the end, the song became "a nonsensical yet rollicking call-and-response workout that perfectly captures the energy of French Quarter life...".[1]

Hill recorded a demo that he shopped to local record labels, finally recording a session at Cosimo Matassa's studio. The record was produced by Allen Toussaint. When it was released in early 1960, it became popular, especially during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. That year, the record sold 800,000 copies[4] and reached the Top 5 in the US Billboard R&B chart. It was in the Top 30 in the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart as well.[1] There have been over 100 cover versions of "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" recorded and performed live over the years by other popular musicians.[4]

Other records he made in New Orleans were not as successful. He then moved to California and worked with other musicians from New Orleans, including Harold Battiste and Mac Rebennack. Songs he wrote there were recorded by Ike Turner and Tina Turner, (singing together as "Ike & Tina Turner"), Sonny Bono and Cher (singing together as "Sonny & Cher") and Willie Nelson.[1]

Later life and death[change | change source]

Stil living in California, a 1972 solo album was not successful at all. He ended up living in poverty and had a drinking problem.[1] He moved back to New Orleans in 1977. He continued to drink alcohol and use narcotics. After he was arrested for drunk driving, he could no longer earn money driving his black Cadillac as a taxi. For a while he was homeless. There were several benefit concerts given to try to help him, but he did not recover from his failures.[1]

Hill died of heart and renal failure in New Orleans in September 1996. He was 63.[5][1] He is buried in Holt Cemetery in New Orleans, in a grave for the poorest citizens of the city.[4]

Family[change | change source]

Two of his grandsons are James and Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews. The pair performed "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" in Episode 7 of the HBO series Treme.[6] A third grandson, Travis "Trumpet Black" Hill, also performed as a trumpet player in New Orleans. He died from an infection while on tour in Tokyo on May 4, 2015.[7]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 "Biography by Jason Ankeny". Retrieved 5 November 2015.
  2. Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 180. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
  3. Alison Fensterstock (9 December 2014). "A birthday party for the late New Orleans R&B icon Jessie Hill, at Ooh Poo Pah Doo Bar Monday night". Times-Picayune. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Jeff Hannusch (1 February 2002). "Masters Of Louisiana Music: Jessie Hill". OffBeat magazine website. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  5. "R&B Singing Legend Jessie Hill Is Dead". Times Picayune. 24 September 1996. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  6. "'Treme,' Episode 7: Civil Dysfunction Meets Civil Disobedience". 24 May 2010. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  7. "Travis 'Trumpet Black' Hill, rising New Orleans trumpeter, has died at 28". Retrieved 2 November 2015.