All For One (AFO) Records Office

712 N. Claiborne Ave.
New Orleans LA 70112
Location Status: Same structure, different use
Curated by
The Ponderosa Stomp Foundation

In 1961, musician, arranger, composer, and producer Harold Battiste opened an office and informal record store here for All For One Records (AFO). As an artist and an A&R man for Specialty Records, Battiste had seen how white record executives could make vast profits on royalties from records made by black musicians who received just one-time payments for their time in the studio. He felt that black musicians should earn more and elevate their social standing by becoming owners of the music they created. He formed AFO to fulfill this vision: Its recording artists owned stock in the company.

Battiste recruited top-flight studio musicians including Peter “Chuck” Badie (bass), John Boudreaux (drums), Melvin Lastie (cornet), and Alvin “Red” Tyler (saxophone) to join him as founding members of AFO. The label scored a national hit right away with “I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More)” featuring vocals by Barbara George and a standout cornet solo written by Battiste and played by Lastie. AFO attracted additional black artists such as singer Tami Lynn, who recorded the album Compendium with the company and appeared in concert with a band of her label-mates called the AFO Executives.

Though R&B paid the bills, Battiste’s passion as a musician was modern jazz, and AFO recorded the artists leading that movement in New Orleans, such as Alvin Batiste, Nathaniel Perrilliat, and James Black. Battiste documented this vanguard on the album Monkey Puzzle by the Ellis Marsalis Quartet. After its release in 1963, distribution problems contributed to the AFO experiment being mothballed. Battiste moved to Los Angeles and, after a productive career there, returned to New Orleans in 1989. He revived AFO in the 1990s, issuing previously unreleased early recordings and new material, including albums by his students at the University of New Orleans jazz-studies program.

 

About North Claiborne Avenue

Built over a drained swamp, North Claiborne Avenue began to take shape in the mid-1800s, with a canal running down its center flanked by rows of trees (which is why it’s nearly 200 feet wide).

Around 1900, in the formative years of jazz, the surrounding neighborhoods—Treme and the Seventh Ward—were home to African-Americans, Creoles of color, and working-class families of various European backgrounds.

Segregation intensified toward mid-century, with the new Lafitte public housing development admitting black families only. Under Jim Crow, an array of black-owned businesses took root on North Claiborne, catering to those who were denied service elsewhere.

By this time the drainage canal was filled in and live oak branches created a canopy overhead, making the Claiborne neutral ground (median) an ideal promenade for black residents’ parading traditions: Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, Mardi Gras Indians, Baby Dolls, and Skeleton Gangs all attracted crowds here.

In 1966, over the protests of residents, public officials chose to uproot the oaks and build an elevated expressway above North Claiborne. As in other cities, the interstate paved the way for white flight to the suburbs.

A community of artists maintained the cultural vitality of the Claiborne corridor despite the ensuing divestment. Then, in 2005, the flood following Hurricane Katrina devastated the area. An uneven recovery followed, with many former residents unable to resettle in their neighborhoods.

Nevertheless, Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, Mardi Gras Indians, and their followers still throng their traditional parade routes along North Claiborne, with brass bands and percussionists using the acoustics of the overpass to amplify their sound.

Though some post-Katrina plans proposed removing the overpass, today the city is trying to revitalize the space beneath it. Ironically, some now see it as a bulwark against the wave of gentrification that has displaced black households from sections of Treme and the Seventh Ward closer to the river.

As part of the revitalization effort, in 2018 local artist Ceaux Young painted murals of local musicians on the underside of the bridge. “It’s hard to control the space you don’t own,” he told OffBeat. “My main job is to protect that footprint.”

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Videos

All For One: Harold Battiste with Peter Guralnick from the 2008 Ponderosa Stomp History Conference.

Story of a Jazz Man: A Tribute to Harold Battiste panel from the 2015 Ponderosa Stomp History Conference, with Peter "Chuck" Badie and Jessie McBride.

Here Come the Girls: Women in Rock, Country, and Soul, Mary Weiss, Lorrie Collins, and Tami Lynn with Holly George-Warren from the 2008 Ponderosa Stomp History Conference. Panel has been edited to focus on content related to AFO Records Office.