Allen Toussaint Dies at 77 After Suffering Heart Attack

Barry Brecheisen/Invision/AP
Allen Toussaint

The New Orleans musician and composer performed in Madrid on Monday night.

MADRID — Legendary New Orleans pianist, songwriter, producer and performer Allen Toussaint, who penned or produced such classics as "Working in a Coal Mine" and "Lady Marmalade," has died after suffering a heart attack following a concert he performed in Spain. He was 77.

Rescue workers were called to Toussaint's hotel early Tuesday morning and managed to revive him after he suffered a heart attack, Madrid emergency services spokesman Javier Ayuso said.

But Toussaint stopped breathing during the ambulance ride to a hospital, and efforts to revive him again were unsuccessful, Ayuso said. Toussaint performed Monday night at Madrid's Lara Theater.

"He was a legend in the music world," said Quint Davis, who produces the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Toussaint performed there so often — frequently as a headliner — that Davis said he referred to it as his "annual concert."

Toussaint was born in New Orleans' Gert Town, a working-class neighborhood where he lived in a "shotgun" house — so-called because you could stand at the front door and fire a shotgun through to the other side of the house.

He went on to become one of the city's most legendary and celebrated performers and personalities.

He worked as a producer for the New Orleans-based Minit Records in 1960 before being drafted in the Army for two years.

He later went on to create his own recording studio in 1973 with fellow songwriter Marshall Sehorn, called Sea-Saint Studio. There he worked with musicians including Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Patti LaBelle, the late Joe Cocker and Elvis Costello.

Toussaint has hundreds of hits to his name and received the Recording Academy Trustees Award at the 2009 Grammy Awards. He penned the 1966 Lee Dorsey classic "Working in a Coal Mine" and produced Dr. John's 1973 hit "Right Place, Wrong Time" and 1975's "Lady Marmalade" by the vocal trio Labelle.

In 1998, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He's also a member of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. In 2013, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama at a ceremony in Washington.

He worked with some of the greatest names in music: Irma Thomas, the Meters, Cocker and the late Ernie K-Doe. Approaching 80, he was still active touring and performing.

He had been expected to perform a benefit concert along with longtime friend Paul Simon in New Orleans on Dec. 8 at Le Petit Theatre to raise money for the organization New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 flooded not only his home but his legendary studio, forcing Toussaint to flee to New York. Davis said that during Katrina Toussaint also lost most of his manuscripts, his gold records and the often elaborate outfits in which he performed onstage.

"You always saw Allen with a coat and tie and wearing sandals," Davis said.

In New York, Toussaint focused largely on performing, often taking the stage at Joe's Pub on Lafayette Street in solo concerts. But like many New Orleans natives, he was not able to stay away forever. Nearly eight years after Katrina, Toussaint returned permanently to the city of his birth and so much of his musical inspiration.

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