I know you get a lot of questions about Laffite the pirate. If you please, I have one more. I heard that he is buried somewhere in Orleans Parish. Also, I heard that he was Jewish. Could this be true?
Our favorite pirate, Jean Laffite, whose name is also spelled Lafitte, is a man of mystery. His birth date as well as his birthplace is questionable. He was born either in Bayonne or Bordeaux, France, or perhaps even in the former colony of St. Domingue, probably in 1780 or 1781. He was the son of a French father and a Spanish mother. He might have been Jewish, but he is definitely not buried in New Orleans.
In the 1940s, a journal appeared in the possession of a man who claimed to be Jean Laffite's descendent. Scholars -- those guys who really do know everything -- jumped on the purported Journal of Jean Laffite like ducks on a June bug. Some declared it was authentic, while others said it was a forgery. A main problem was the lack of genuine samples of Laffite's handwriting for comparison. Tests on the paper, however, confirmed that it was written in the 19th century. Translated copies of the journal have been in print since the 1950s, and the original manuscript was purchased by Texas Gov. Price Daniel in the 1970s and is on display in the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, Texas. If you believe it, the diary reveals some significant information about Laffite's ancestry.
According to Harold I. Sharfman, in Jews on the Frontier: An Account of Jewish Pioneers and Settlers in Early America, Laffite was Jewish through descent from his maternal grandmother Zora Nadrimal. Sharfman explains that the family was Marranos and were forced to convert to Roman Catholicism in the 14th century. Like others in similar situations, they continued to practice their religion in secret. Then, to escape the Spanish Inquisition, Laffite's grandmother and great-grandmother fled to France, but Laffite's grandfather Abhorad was put to death by the Inquisition for "Judaizing."
A great deal is known, however, about the dashing Jean Laffite between the years 1803 and 1825. During that exciting time, he kept himself busy as a pirate, privateer, smuggler of slaves and aide to Gen. Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans, gaining epithets such as "The Buccaneer," "The Corsair," "The King of Barataria," "The Terror of the Gulf" and the "Savior of New Orleans." Many books have been written about Jean Laffite throughout the years, including a tome penned just last year by historian William C. Davis titled The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf (Harcourt Inc. May 2005, $28 hardcover, $16 paperback), which The Washington Post said "should prove the last word on ... the Laffites."
In 1817, Laffite was in Galveston, Texas, which was the center for his smuggling and privateering. But by 1820, he left Galveston and sailed to Mugeres Island, off the coast of Yucatan, where he continued his illegal activities until 1825, when he became ill. Laffite returned to the mainland, supposedly to die, and he was never heard from again after 1826.
According to the questionable Journal of Jean Laffite, however, Laffite lived in several different states, raised a family, spent his declining years as a respectable, middle-class citizen, lived until the 1840s and died in St. Louis, Mo.
Is it true that Ray McKinley played at the same time as Leon Kelner?
Drummer Ray McKinley was born in 1910 and died in 1995. Pianist Leon Kelner was born around 1923 and died in 2000. I can assure you that they were both playing music at the same time, although not necessarily in the same place. Leon Kelner is most famous for his years at the famous Blue Room of the Roosevelt/Fairmont Hotel. He wowed us from 1945 until 1971.
Ray McKinley was a smash hit as the drummer in a new orchestra put together by Glen Miller. This band toured to New Orleans in late 1932 and was a great success at the Forrest Club. The band returned again in late 1933.
Throughout his career, McKinley led many of his own bands and played drums for other famous leaders. He spent the last 30 years of his life close to home, playing gigs with various bands, working as a musical consultant for Walt Disney World in 1971 and doing some television and recordings.