Professor Longhair’s daughter works to preserve father’s legacy

Published: Feb. 10, 2023 at 8:20 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Over the next two weeks, Mardi Gras goers will hear one song, perhaps more than any other. Professor Longhair’s Big Chief is a carnival anthem, and his daughter is determined to keep her father’s legacy alive.

Since 1990, Professor Longhair’s daughter, Patricia Byrd, has worked tirelessly to honor her father and his house on Terpsichore Street, where Roland Byrd’s music still plays.

“This was my father’s very first home he had ever owned,” said Patricia.

Byrd says it was in this neighborhood that Professor Longhair, who recorded big chief in 1949, was re-discovered by Jazzfest Producer Quint Davis in 1971.

‘I was jumping rope and I said to my friend here come these hippies,’ she said.

Davis hired Fess to perform at the first Jazzfest in Congo Square, launching a comeback for the civil defense worker that would last his final decade.

It was the first time then 10- year old Patricia Byrd realized her father was a legend.

And though some New Orleans musicians like Fats Domino and Allen Toussaint have had streets renamed for them, fess’s daughter, and others, believe proper tributes for Longhair, are long overdue.

I have so many loving people that want me to keep the dream alive.

Pat Byrd has been working on this tribute to Professor Longhair’s museum for more than 30 years and she’d like to see more recognition from a city that culturally benefitted from her father.

“Because my father was so involved with so many other musicians, it’s about the New Orleans music culture,” said Patricia.

Fess’s old home has received a historical plaque from the Preservation Resource Center, but Byrd wants more.

‘I would love to see this street renamed Professor Longhair Ln,” said Byrd.

She has started a petition drive, asking the city for more official recognition, a drive which councilmember Oliver Thomas supports.

“Professor Longhair Congo Square Way some significant building or street that runs through the area...something to match what he gave us,” said Thomas.

Patricia Byrd has begun discussions with Mayor Cantrell’s office, hoping for more recognition...for a musical legend appreciated worldwide.

“I’ve written to the governor, talked to Leslie Harris, I spoke to the mayor. This is all I talk about,” said Byrd.

And she plans to keep talking about it, until the job is done.

Pat Byrd is calling for a special day to honor her father to coincide with Jazzfest, on April 20. She has also started a Facebook page, with a petition drive, for those who support the effort.

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