Malcolm John Rebennack Jr. (November 20, 1941 – June 6, 2019), better known by his stage name Dr. John, was an American singer and songwriter. His music combined blues, pop, jazz, boogie-woogie, funk, and rock and roll.
Active as a session musician from the late 1950s until his death, he gained a following in the late 1960s after the release of his album Gris-Gris and his appearance at the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music. He typically performed a lively, theatrical stage show inspired by medicine shows, Mardi Gras costumes, and voodoo ceremonies. Rebennack recorded thirty studio albums and nine live albums, as well as contributing to thousands of other musicians’ recordings. In 1973 he achieved a top-10 hit single with “Right Place, Wrong Time“.
The winner of six Grammy Awards, Rebennack was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by singer John Legend in March 2011. In May 2013, Rebennack received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Tulane University.
Rebennack was born in New Orleans on November 20, 1941. He was the son of Dorothy (Cronin) and Malcolm John Rebennack, and had German, Irish, Spanish, English, and French heritage. His father ran an appliance shop in the East End of New Orleans, fixing radios and televisions and selling records. Growing up in the 3rd Ward of New Orleans, he found early musical inspiration in the minstrel tunes sung by his grandfather and a number of aunts, uncles, sister, and cousins who played piano. He did not take music lessons before his teens and endured only a short stint in choir before getting kicked out. His father exposed him as a young boy to jazz musicians King Oliver and Louis Armstrong, who later inspired his 2014 release, Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch. Throughout his adolescence, his father’s connections enabled him access to the recording rooms of rock artists, including Little Richard and Guitar Slim. Later he began to perform in New Orleans clubs, mainly on guitar, and played on stage with various local artists.
When he was about 13 years old, Rebennack met Professor Longhair. Impressed by the professor’s flamboyant attire and striking musical style,Rebennack soon began performing with him, and began his life as a professional musician. He later recalled that his debut in the studio, in about 1955 or 1956, came when he was signed as a songwriter and artist by Eddie Mesner at Aladdin Records. He joined the musicians’ union at the end of 1957, with the help of Danny Kessler, and then considered himself to be a professional musician.