“Sweet Emma” Barrett (March 25, 1897, New Orleans, Louisiana – January 28, 1983) was an American, self-taught jazz pianist and singer who worked with the Original Tuxedo Orchestra between 1923 and 1936, first under Papa Celestin, then William Ridgely. She also worked with Armand Piron, John Robichaux, Sidney Desvigne, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Born March 25, 1897 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her father was Capt. William B. Barrett, whom she said fought for the North in the Civil War. At the age of 7 she began to play the piano. In the early 1920s, Barrett joined Oscar Celestin‘s Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra. In 1928, when the Celestin’s band split, she intermittently played music with Bebe Ridgeley’s Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra for the next 10 years.
In 1947, she accepted a steady job at Happy Landing, a local club in Pecaniere, Louisiana, but it was her recording debut in 1961, with her own album in the Riverside Records New Orleans: The Living Legends series, that brought her recognition. Although most of the songs on the album were instrumentals, others featured vocals by Barrett that the liner notes described as her first recordings as a vocalist.
She was nicknamed “Bell Gal” because she wore a red skull cap and garters with Christmas bells that jingled in time with her music. She was featured on the cover of Glamour magazine and written about in publications in the U.S. and Europe. She toured with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band domestically and internationally, including a stint at Disneyland in 1963.