Wardell Quezergue (left), nicknamed the “Creole Beethoven,” produced Dr. John's Grammy award-winning “Goin' Back to New Orleans” in 1992. Learn more »
Wardell J. Quezergue, known as the “Creole Beethoven,” was a music arranger, producer, and bandleader from New Orleans. A rhythm and blues producer-arranger known for adding layers of funk rhythms and memorable, syncopated horn lines to his works, Quezergue was also an accomplished composer and instrumentalist, cowriting the 1964 hit “It Ain’t My Fault,” which went on to become a staple of New Orleans brass bands and rappers. Quezergue’s career hit its stride during the mid-1960s and early 1970s with a string of hits including “Iko Iko” (the Dixie Cups), “Big Chief” (Professor Longhair), “Barefootin’” (Robert Parker), “Groove Me” (King Floyd), and “Mr. Big Stuff” (Jean Knight), the latter two of which were both cut on the same day. Quezergue stands among New Orleans’s premiere producers and arrangers, an exclusive group that includes Dave Bartholomew, Allen Touissant, and Harold Battiste.
Quezergue was born to Sidney Quezergue and Violetta Guimont on March 12, 1930. Born into a Creole family in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans, he grew up in a musical family. His father was a guitar player; his mother played clarinet. Two elder siblings, Sidney and Leo, played jazz trumpet, and drums, respectively. Quezergue had his first professional gig—playing trumpet—at the age of twelve. He wrote his first composition for the Xavier Prep band while still in high school.
After graduation Quezergue enlisted and worked with military bands while stationed in Tokyo during the Korean War. Upon returning to New Orleans, he studied music under the GI Bill and formed the Royal Dukes of Rhythm, a house band that performed for dance parties. Within a few short years, Dave Bartholomew asked Quezergue to come on board as an arranger at Imperial Records, where Quezergue worked with Fats Domino, Earl King, and many other emerging rhythm and blues recording artists. During this time he also performed and recorded with his own band, Wardell and the Sultans.
In 1964 Quezergue cofounded NOLA Records and released the hit “Teasin’ You,” by Willie Tee (New Orleans native Willie Turbinton), the year after. One of Quezergue’s most beloved arrangements, “Iko Iko” by the Dixie Cups, with its Mardi Gras Indian roots, was also recorded during this time.
Over his long career, Quezergue worked with such diverse artists as Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Stevie Wonder, BB King, Robbie Robertson, and Willie Nelson. Quezergue’s work on Dr. John’s Grammy-winning album, Goin’ Back to New Orleans (1992), is held in particularly high regard.
In 2000 Quezergue completed A Creole Mass, a set of orchestral hymns he had begun nearly fifty years earlier, based on his experiences in the Korean War. In May 2009 he received an honorary doctorate from Loyola University in New Orleans. That same year the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation held a tribute to Quezergue at Lincoln Center in New York City, where he conducted an orchestra in arrangements of his pieces along with a host of celebrity musical guests, including Dr. John and the Dixie Cups.
Quezergue lost nearly all of his possessions, including his original scores, during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Quezergue continued working for the remainder of his life, despite his loss of eyesight in later years due to complications from diabetes. He died of congestive heart failure on September 6, 2011.
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Chicago Manual of Style
"Wardell Quezergue." In KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–. Article published January 19, 2015. http://www.knowla.org/entry/1962/&view=summary.
"Wardell Quezergue." KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 19 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Jan. 2017.
Would you like to learn more about this topic from books and other reading materials?
Berry, Jason, Jonathan Foose, and Tad Jones. Up From the Cradle of Jazz: New Orleans Music Since World War II. Lafayette: University of Louisiana Press, 2009.
Broven, John. Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 1988.