Lionel Ferbos: Celebrated New Orleans jazz trumpeter who began in the Depression and was still performing at 102

 

The centenarian jazz musician Lionel Ferbos died at his home in New Orleans a few days after celebrating his 103rd birthday on July 17. His ability to read music made him an in-demand musician for gigs that took him to parks, schools, churches, dance halls and even prisons. He also performed at his 102nd birthday party and at every New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival until this year.

Ferbos was believed to be the oldest working jazz musician. He was also the last living member of the city's WPA band, which was formed during the Depression by labourers through the federal Works Progress Administration. He had recently become too weak to hold his trumpet. His granddaughter, Lori Schexnayder, said, "He missed it so much, but his arms just weren't strong enough to hold it up,".

Early in his career, Ferbos performed with New Orleans society jazz bands at well-known venues such as the Pelican Club in Rampart Street –a downtown strip that in the 1920s and '30s was the epicentre of the city's black entertainment district. He performed with Walter Pichon and Captain John Handy in the 1930s, earning little more than a dollar a night. He also played with saxophonist Harold Dejan and trumpeters Herbert Leary, Gene Ware and Sidney Desvignes, as well as blues singer Mamie Smith. "He was very advanced and technical for his time," recalled the Dixieland jazz musician Lars Edegran, who performed with Ferbos for decades with the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra, " He was very professional on stage, a beloved person, and there's just nobody else like him."

Ferbos had a unique voice and a knack for soft, sentimental hits like "When I Grow Too Old to Dream". Though he performed almost exclusively in New Orleans, Ferbos did tour Europe eight times with the ragtime orchestra. He was also part of the original stage band of the off-Broadway hit "One Mo' Time". He met his wife, a Creole seamstress named Margarite Gilyot, in New Orleans. The couple married in 1934 and were together for 75 years until she died in 2009.

When Danny Barker founded the now-famous Fairview Baptist band to train a young generation of New Orleans musicians, Ferbos was asked to write out all their charts. In the 1940s he played on New Orleans' Lake Pontchartrain at the Happy Landing and Mama Lou's, and in the 1950s he worked with Harold Dejan at the Melody Inn, where he recorded with the "Mighty Four." In the 1960s he played with Herbert Leary's Orchestra.

Like many musicians of his time, Ferbos had a day job, working for decades as a metalworker, first in his father's French Quarter workshop, then taking over the family business.

STACEY PLAISANCE

Lionel Charles Ferbos, musician and metalworker: born New Orleans 17 July 1911; married 1934 Margarite Gilyot (died 2009; one daughter, and one son deceased); died New Orleans 19 July 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'