Formerly housing the 501 Club, the building at the corner of Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas opened as Tipitina’s in 1977 to honor R&B pianist Professor Longhair, nee Henry Roeland Byrd (1918-1980). A group of young fans wanted the venerable musician to have venue for his comeback, and he did for the last three years of his life.
Longhair, a master of the New Orleans piano tradition, wowed Atlantic Records impresario Ahmet Ertegun at a small club in 1949, and went on to cut records including “Tipitina” in 1953. His sound, especially the rhumba-infused boogie woogie rhythm of his left hand, influenced generations of musicians, such as Huey “Piano” Smith, Allen Toussaint, James Booker, Eddie Bo, Mac Rebennack (also known as Dr. John), and the Meters.
Longhair composed one of the Crescent City’s most famous Carnival anthems, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans.” He was also known for mangling piano legs by kicking them rhythmically while he pounded the keys. Producer and arranger Wardell Quezergue recalled tying Longhair’s leg to the piano bench in the studio to keep the sound off of the record. Sadly, a heart attack cut short his late-career renaissance. Today, in the club named after one of his signature tunes, a bust of Longhair sculpted by hoodoo bluesman Coco Robicheaux greets entering patrons.
The nightclub also played a key role in launching New Orleans’ renowned community radio station WWOZ (90.7FM) in the early 1980s. The studio was on the second floor of the building, legend has it that DJs aired live performances by dropping a microphone through a hole in the floor. The stage downstairs has hosted a who’s who of New Orleans musicians, including Chris Kenner, Snooks Eaglin, Earl King, Tuts Washington, the Radiators, the Wild Magnolias, and Marva Wright to name just a few.
After changes in management and ownership and a brief closure, Tipitina’s in the past 20 years has become a popular venue for nationally known touring acts as well as local performers, and the nightclub’s logo of a hand holding a banana has become iconic. The neutral ground outside features the Tipitina’s Walk of Fame, which honors New Orleans music legends. And the nonprofit Tipitina’s Foundation offers a Music Co-op for working artists, educational programming for students, and, through Instruments-A-Coming, provides instruments to local school marching bands.
Video from Music Vault.
The Neville Brothers full concert at Tipitina's from 1991.
Video from Galactic.
Galactic with Cyril Neville performing "Gossip" at Tipitina's on April 23, 2010 during Jazz Fest.
Video by JCuz Production.
The Tipitina's Foundation's Battle of the Bands from 2016.