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Tricentennial Reading List with Jason Berry (part 2): Autobiographies

  •  “Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans,” by Louis Armstrong
  • “Treat It Gentle,” by Sidney Bechet
  • “Under a Hoodoo Moon, The Life of Dr. John, The Nightripper,” by Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) with Jack Rummel
  • “Danny Barker: A Life in Jazz,” recently reissued with Gwen Thompkins introduction
  • “Unfinished Blues: Memories of a New Orleans Music Man,” by Harold Battiste with Karen Celestan
  • “Big Freedia: Love Live the Queen Diva,” by Big Freedia with Nicole Balin
  • “The Brothers: An Autobiography,” by David Ritz with Aaron, Art, Charles and Cyril Neville
  • “Song for My Fathers: A New Orleans Story in Black and White,” by Tom Sancton


[Louis Armstrong - "Muggles"]


Susan Larson: We’re lucky to have so many great autobiographers among our musicians and first of , of course, is Satchmo, My Life in New Orleans by Louis Armstrong which I think is larger than a musical autobiography, it's really a classic African-American autobiography.


Jason Berry: I would say it's a classic your autobiography period. Armstrong had a typewriter with him when he left New Orleans in 1922 here he is he is 21-year-old guy getting on the train to go to Chicago, his mama packs him a fish sandwich, he's got his horn, he's got his bag and he had a typewriter.


Susan Larson: I love that and I love that he always kept up with him.


Jason Berry: He did and the first known letter I believe I'm correct in saying this, maybe others have surfaced, but I believe the first one is one that he wrote from Chicago to Isidore Barbarin, the patriarch of the Barbarin family, uncle of Danny Barker, father of Paul and Louis Barbarin, so he was keeping up with his folks at home.

[Louis Armstrong - “Do you know what it means (to miss New Orleans)”]


Susan Larson: And he signed all those letters “Red Beans and Ricely Yours.” We've also gotten some really gotten some other wonderful autobiographies. There's Treat it Gentle by Sydney Bechet, Under a Hoodoo Moon, The Life of Dr. John, The Night Tripper, Dr. John wrote with Jack Rummel and then there's the recently reissued Danny Barker, A Life in Jazz which Gwen Thompkins worked on so hard.


Jason Berry: The HNOC published in a truly handsome edition with wonderful illustrations.

[Danny Barker - “Tootie Ma is Big Fine Thing”]


Susan Larson: We have Danny Barker, A Life in Jazz, Danny Barker we all love, Unfinished Blues, Memories of a New Orleans Music Man by Harold Battiste with Karen Celestan, Big Freedia, long live the queen diva. I love big Freedia, by Big Freedia with Nicole Balin and The Brothers [Neville] by David Ritz with Aaron, Art, Charles and Cyril Neville.


Jason Berry: The Brothers Neville, with Charles just having passed- Art is 80 now and he has not been in the best of health, Cyril is vibrant and thriving as ever and Aaron, of course, is singing everywhere. When I first started following them in the late 70's and interviewing them for of the [Up from the] Cradle of Jazz for the book and then for the documentary we did at the time, I was really struck by Charles's sense of - he was so well grounded as a man who understood his past, he talked about the family history people from Martinique, American Indians, African Americans, he was he was really a remarkable man and will be missed.


[The Neville Brothers - "Valence Street']



The Reading Life in 2010, Susan Larson was the book editor for The New Orleans Times-Picayune from 1988-2009. She has served on the boards of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and the New Orleans Public Library. She is the founder of the New Orleans chapter of the Women's National Book Association, which presents the annual Diana Pinckley Prizes for Crime Fiction.. In 2007, she received the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the literary community. She is also the author of The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans. If you run into her in a local bookstore or library, she'll be happy to suggest something you should read. She thinks New Orleans is the best literary town in the world, and she reads about a book a day.

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