From 1995 until 2010, Ernie K-Doe’s Mother-In-Law Lounge served as a music venue, community center, and shrine to singer Ernie K-Doe, the self-styled “Emperor of the Universe.” K-Doe was known for his song “Mother in Law,” a national No. 1 hit in 1961. A dynamic performer, K-Doe toured widely and recorded numerous other regional favorites in the 1960s. In the 1980s, as a DJ on community radio station WWOZ, he became known for outlandish, stream-of-consciousness rants.
K-Doe had fallen on hard times by the 1990s, but a bartender named Antoinette Fox helped him get back on his feet and open the lounge. The couple married and lived on the second floor. The first floor displayed memorabilia from K-Doe’s career and included a performance space where he jump-started a revival.
Often accompanied on keyboard by Rico Watts, K-Doe played to a diverse crowd. Veterans of the city’s Black R&B scene mingled with younger, predominantly white rock and experimental musicians. The K-Does embraced all comers: Murals by artist Daniel Fuselier on the building’s exterior depicted regulars including Quintron and Miss Pussycat, purveyors of “Swamp Tech” dance music, and Mardi Gras Indian Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana, who masked along this stretch of North Claiborne Avenue.
After K-Doe’s death in 2001, Antoinette celebrated her husband’s legacy with the help of a lifelike statue of K-Doe fashioned from a mannequin, which she dressed in his suits and jewelry. The flood caused by levee failures during Hurricane Katrina inundated the lounge, though Antoinette reopened the following year, using the facility to feed returning neighbors and visiting volunteers. On Mardi Gras mornings, in keeping with a Carnival tradition, she led a walking parade of women dressed as baby dolls from the lounge. Antoinette died on Fat Tuesday 2009, and the lounge closed in 2010.
In 2014, New Orleans trumpeter Kermit Ruffins reopened the club under the name Kermit Ruffins’ Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge. Ruffins has been known to feed patrons from a grill he tends in the back of a truck parked outside.
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Ernie K-Doe and band perform "T'aint It the Truth" at Winnie's in New Orleans in 1982, shot by Alan Lomax and crew.
The official Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame Induction video for Ernie K-Doe, including footage of a Jazz Fest performance and his appearance with Antoinette in the movie Happy, Now & Then.
Ernie K-Doe in action at his Mother-in-Law Lounge with The Egg Yolk Jubilee, April 27th, 2001.
An interview with Mother-in-Law Lounge proprietor Antoinette K-Doe from 2008, three years after Hurricane Katrina and the catastrophic levee failures.