Sad news as WWL-TV is reporting that Bennie Pete, the leader of the Grammy-nominated Hot 8 Brass Band, has had to take a leave of absence from his band due to health issues. Monica Hernandez reports that Pete has a condition called sarcoidosis, which causes inflammation in the eyes, skin, lungs, brain and even heart. Pete's illness has caused the Hot 8 to cancel a summer tour, though they remain performing locally.
This is particularly heartbreaking because of all Pete has had to overcome as the leader of a band that has seen multiple members die through gun violence. In 1996, trumpet player Jacob Johnson was found dead in his home from a gunshot wound to the head. In 2004, trombonist "Shotgun" Joe Williams was gunned down by New Orleans Police Department officers in his car despite being unarmed. In 2007, drummer Dinerral Shavers was shot and killed while driving with his wife and child (his jazz funeral was famously depicted on an episode of HBO's Treme).
In an interview I conducted with Pete a few years ago, he spoke of how the violence that affected his band made him consider quitting music altogether, but that his dedication to his former band members and their families made him feel obligated to continue playing to honor their memory. After years of grinding it out at local clubs and in second line parades, the Hot 8 seemed to be one of the rise after being featured in Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts and culminating in the band's Grammy nomination this past year.
Pete told WWL-TV's Hernandez that his illness has forced him to put music aside and that he cried when doctors told him of how his heart was operating at less than 50 percent capacity. Pete, who has a one-year-old son, said he'd like to still be involved with his band but won't be able to play more than a song or two every few weeks. Pete's iconic playing will surely be missed as he has had a profound impact on younger musicians in the city, most notably the TBC Brass Band, which Pete became a mentor for after their saxophone player Brandon Franklin was murdered in 2010.