Professor Longhair
11:48 am
Thu February 27, 2014

Major Renovations To Professor Longhair's House Provide Home To Family, Fans

People filled the streets to celebrate the renovation of Professor Longhair's house. The Central City home will house Longhair's family, as well as a place for fans to celebrate the pianist.
People filled the streets to celebrate the renovation of Professor Longhair's house. The Central City home will house Longhair's family, as well as a place for fans to celebrate the pianist.
Credit Eileen Fleming / WWNO

The descendants of New Orleans’ renowned rhythm and blues pianist Professor Longhair will soon be back in their Central City house again. A major renovation has made it possible for his family and fans to have a permanent home.

The Stooges Brass Band welcomed dozens of people attending the unveiling of Professor Longhair’s house.

The one and only home ever purchased by the music legend has been renovated. His daughter, Pat Byrd, and grandson Ardell, are moving back in this week.

It was a house that “Fess” bought in 1979. Pat was 19 at the time, and although he lived there less than a year, she remembers that he wanted her to make sure she kept it for the family.

“My mom was a major factor here,” Byrd says. “On her dying day asked me to keep this house. But I’m telling you, it was a struggle. I got frustrated so many times. I’m like ‘I’m not keeping this. I’m going to sell it. I’m tired.’ But it paid off. Good things come to those who wait.”

Pat Bryd, Professor Longhair's daughter, and her son Ardell.
Pat Bryd, Professor Longhair's daughter, and her son Ardell.
Credit Eileen Fleming / WWNO

It was a long wait. Byrd struggled to make enough money to fix up and maintain the house, and then Hurricane Katrina did its damage. Thieves made off with her dad’s belongings. And then she lost Road Home money to contractor fraud.

But those hard times seem to be behind her now. She prefers to remember her father, and how he would have enjoyed the homecoming party.

“If my dad was here, oh girl, ma’am, the streets wouldn’t be big enough,” she says. “We wouldn’t be doing interviews anymore. But I would definitely have to sing with him today if he was here.”

Officials speaking at the dedication remembered the influence Professor Longhair had on rock and roll music, reflected by the Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Elvis. New Orleans pianist Armand St. Martin remembered playing for Fess himself.

“I was playing at Tipitina’s the night of his last birthday party, the night he passed away. So I was the last piano player he saw,” St, Martin says. “And it was an honor. He was a joyous person, like Pat. He brought love and joy everywhere he went. So humble. And when you hear somebody go, ‘Thank you,’ you know, the way he used to do it. He’d play the heck out of the piano and the whole place would be jumping. ‘Thank you.’ I just loved that.”

A photo of Professor Longhair sits on the mantle he loved.
A photo of Professor Longhair sits on the mantle he loved.
Credit Eileen Fleming / WWNO

Renovating the house was a two-year effort undertaken by the Tipitina’s Foundation.

“I know that were more than 140 volunteers who came from across the country to contribute,” says Managing Director Bethany Paulsen. “We did a number of different fundraisers at Tipitina’s. Domino’s Pizza was involved. United Way, Project Homecoming and Tipitina’s Foundation all did individual fundraisers to bring together the funding that was needed to finish off the house.”

Renovation crews wanted to remove a mantle they thought was not historically appropriate for the home. But Pat Byrd insisted it stay. It was one of her father’s favorite features in the home.

His pictures are now displayed on that mantle, alongside some articles and artwork.

Byrd says she’ll be opening a museum at the house in a room the family used for storage. What they called “The Shop” will become a permanent home for his fans.