Legendary bandleader, producer and arranger Wardell Quezergue, who died Sept. 6 at the age of 81, made an indelible mark on New Orleans and American music. Beginning with hits in the 1950s, he became a leading architect of the New Orleans R&B sound and a fixture in the local music community. Prolific into his later years, Quezergue completed his classical A Creole Mass in 2000 and released an album in 2009.
Known to many as the "Creole Beethoven," Quezergue enjoyed a prolific career as the producer and arranger. He wrote the classic New Orleans tune "It Ain't My Fault" and helped engineer Professor Longhair's "Big Chief," the Dixie Cups' "Iko Iko," Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff," and King Floyd's "Groove Me." Quezergue worked with artists including Fats Domino, Earl King, Dr. John, Neville Brothers, Paul Simon and Willie Nelson.
Quezergue learned to play music at an early age and began writing arrangements in high school. After military service in the Korean War, he started the band the Royal Dukes of Rhythm and later was hired by Dave Bartholomew to work for Imperial Records. In the mid-1960s, Quezergue cofounded Nola Records, which released Robert Parker's top 10 hit "Barefootin'."
Quezergue's wife Yoshi Tamaki Quezergue died in May. He is survived by his brother Leo, 13 children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.