Allen Toussaint (/ˈtuːsɑːnt/; January 14, 1938 – November 10, 2015) was an American musician, songwriter, arranger and record producer, who was an influential figure in New Orleans rhythm and blues from the 1950s to the end of the century, described as “one of popular music’s great backroom figures”. Many musicians recorded Toussaint’s compositions, including “Whipped Cream”, “Java“, “Mother-in-Law“, “I Like It Like That“, “Fortune Teller“, “Ride Your Pony“, “Get Out of My Life, Woman“, “Working in the Coal Mine“, “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky”, “Here Come the Girls“, “Yes We Can Can“, “Play Something Sweet“, and “Southern Nights“. He was a producer for hundreds of recordings, among the best known of which are “Right Place, Wrong Time“, by his longtime friend Dr. John (“Mac” Rebennack), and “Lady Marmalade“, by Labelle.
The youngest of three children, Toussaint was born in 1938 in New Orleans and grew up in a shotgun house in the Gert Town neighborhood, where his mother, Naomi Neville (whose name he later adopted pseudonymously for some of his works), welcomed and fed all manner of musicians as they practiced and recorded with her son. His father, Clarence, worked on the railway and played trumpet. Allen Toussaint learned piano as a child and took informal music lessons from an elderly neighbor, Ernest Pinn. In his teens he played in a band, the Flamingos, with the guitarist Snooks Eaglin, before dropping out of school. A significant early influence on Toussaint was the syncopated “second-line” piano style of Professor Longhair.
After a lucky break at age 17, in which he stood in for Huey “Piano” Smith at a performance with Earl King‘s band in Prichard, Alabama, Toussaint was introduced to a group of local musicians led by Dave Bartholomew, who performed regularly at the Dew Drop Inn, a nightclub on Lasalle Street in Uptown New Orleans. His first recording was in 1957 as a stand-in for Fats Domino on Domino’s record “I Want You to Know“, on which Toussaint played piano and Domino overdubbed his vocals. His first success as a producer also came in 1957 with Lee Allen’s “Walking with Mr. Lee”. He began performing regularly in Bartholomew’s band, and he recorded with Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis, Lee Allen and other leading New Orleans performers.