Jessie Hill at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, 1996.
December 9, 1932|
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
September 17, 1996 (aged 63)|
New Orleans, Louisiana
Hill was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. By his teens he was playing drums in local bands, and in 1951 he formed his own group, the House Rockers. After periods performing as drummer with Professor Longhair and then Huey "Piano" Smith, Hill formed a new version of the House Rockers in 1958, which enabled him to focus on singing with the band.
The origins of "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" were apparently created from a tune played by a local pianist, who was known only as Big Four. Hill wrote the lyrics and melody, later expanding the work with an intro taken from Dave Bartholomew. It was further honed on stage, before Hill recorded a demo that he shopped to local record labels, finally recording a session at Cosimo Matassa's studio produced by Allen Toussaint.
Upon its early 1960 release, "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" emerged as a favorite at Mardi Gras, selling 800,000 copies and reaching the Top 5 in the US Billboard R&B chart and a Top 30 slot in the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. There have been over 100 cover versions of "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" recorded and performed live over the years by other popular musicians.
Further recordings in New Orleans were less successful, and he moved to California to work with fellow New Orleans musicians including Harold Battiste and Mac Rebennack. In this period, he wrote songs recorded by Ike and Tina Turner, Sonny and Cher, and Willie Nelson.
A 1972 solo album was unsuccessful, and he began to suffer financial difficulties exacerbated by a drinking problem. These problems continued after his return to New Orleans in 1977, and several benefit gigs did little to revive his personal or professional fortunes.
Death and legacy
Hill died of heart and renal failure in New Orleans in September 1996, at the age of 63. He is buried in Holt Cemetery in New Orleans, in a pauper's grave for the poorest citizens of the city.
Two of his grandsons are James and Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews. The pair performed "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" in Episode 7 of the HBO series Treme. A third grandson, Travis "Trumpet Black" Hill, was a rising New Orleans-based performer. Trumpet Black died from an infection while on tour in Tokyo on May 4, 2015.
- "Biography by Jason Ankeny". Allmusic.com. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
- Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 180. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
- Alison Fensterstock (9 December 2014). "A birthday party for the late New Orleans R&B icon Jessie Hill, at Ooh Poo Pah Doo Bar Monday night". Nola.com. Times-Picayune. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
- Jeff Hannusch (1 February 2002). "Masters Of Louisiana Music: Jessie Hill". OffBeat magazine website. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
- "R&B Singing Legend Jessie Hill Is Dead". Times Picayune. 24 September 1996. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
- "'Treme,' Episode 7: Civil Dysfunction Meets Civil Disobedience". NPR.org. 24 May 2010. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
- "Travis 'Trumpet Black' Hill, rising New Orleans trumpeter, has died at 28". NOLA.com. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
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