Here's a feel-good story for jazz fans, although it's been a long time in the making: The final home of New Orleans piano legend Henry "Professor Longhair" Byrd has finally been renovated following the destruction inflicted by Hurricane Katrina. A ribbon-cutting ceremony last week marked the end of two years worth of work.
This isn't just a happy story from a historical perspective. Longhair's daughter Pat Byrd will move into the house with her youngest son, after being homeless for several years as a result of the destruction.
Longhair is hailed as one of the godfathers of the New Orleans R&B sound, an influence for legends such as Allen Toussaint and Dr. John. He would later be inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. That renown didn't have much impact during his life however. After having a few minor hits during the '50s and '60s, Longhair withdrew from music, working as a janitor and other positions to get by.
He was approached during 1971 to perform the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, an event that brought the performer back to prominence. He recorded several new albums and drew attention from other large acts. At the time of his death in 1980, he was due to tour with The Clash. His '70s success allowed him to purchase his home in Central City, an accomplishment he and his family held dear. His family struggled to maintain the property following his death, due to poor royalty returns and legal issues. Byrd was forced to leave the house during Katrina, and it also suffered looting in the aftermath.
New Orleans club owner Steve Armbruster got involved, and with 140 volunteers helped to restore the house. Byrd is happy to have a place to reside of course, but she understands the historical significance as well. She plans on opening a small museum to her father's legacy in a ground floor area of the house.