Music legend, cherished New Orleanian Pete Fountain dies
UPDATED 7:29 AM CDT Aug 06, 2016
Born July 3, 1930, Pierre Dewey LaFontaine Jr. was the man better known as Pete Fountain. He was one of the greatest ambassadors the city of New Orleans ever had. He was one of the most successful clarinetists in music history.
Some stars are loud and boisterous, others are quiet and methodical. When it came to Pete Fountain, his clarinet spoke louder than he ever did.
It's hard to believe the legend of Pete Fountain happened almost by accident. When he was a child, Pete was sickly and had weak lungs. A doctor recommended he start playing musical instruments -- anything he had to blow into.
Pete started playing the clarinet around the age of 9 and over time, his lung health improved. The rest is musical history.
After attending Warren Easton High School, Pete's career blossomed quickly. In 2014, he was honored by the school and he gave all the credit to his band director, Anthony Valentino.
"Valentino was here and he's the one who really, really brought me up. He was my teacher," Pete said during a previous interview with WDSU.
Arthur Hardy, who also attended Warren Easton, said his friend Pete was the soul of New Orleans. He referred to Pete as a man who never forgot his roots.
"He donated a lot of band instruments to Warren Easton," Arthur said. "He was one of our first inductees into our hall of fame, and again, gave back to his roots. He was big, but not too big to come back home and be one of us."
Pete went on to appear on the "Tonight Show" nearly 60 times. He performed at the White House four times. He entertained Pope John Paul II at the New Orleans Papal Mass in 1987. He also performed at the halftime of two Super Bowls at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 1978 and 1990.
The Louisiana Music Hall of Famer was a staple on Fat Tuesday for generations. Pete was the founder of the "Half-Fast Walking Club." He and other jazz musicians would play throughout the route wearing green tuxedos, or red ones, or gold ones or something else.
He was also a New Orleans Jazz Fest regular. His first was the inaugural one in 1970.
Pete recorded more than 100 albums over the years. In 1950, he founded the Basin Street Six in New Orleans. Four years later, he joined the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. He credits Welk with launching his professional career.
Pete later played with the Dukes of Dixieland and then in the 1960s and 1970s, he owned his own club on Bourbon Street, which quickly attracted major entertainers like "Ol' Blue Eyes," the popular nickname for Frank Sinatra.
Pete Fountain's Jazz Club would later take up residence at the Riverside Hilton in downtown New Orleans. That club closed in 2003 and Pete moved his act to Casino Magic -- now Hollywood Casino -- in Bay. St. Louis.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed Pete's home in Bay St. Louis, including much of his memorabilia. A quadruple bypass surgery followed soon after, causing him to miss his first Mardi Gras with his Walking Club in nearly a half century.
Pete was back to help reopen Hollywood Casino in April 2014.
In 2014, Pete told WDSU's Heath Allen that he has certainly enjoyed the ride.
"It's been good for me, really, really good. I'm still tooting. Not much, but I'm still tooting," Pete said during the interview.
Pete, a New Orleans music legend whose beautiful music became part of the fabric of the Crescent City, will live on for generations to come.