Allison Miner, a major contributor to New Orleans music for over 25 years, passed away Saturday, December 23, 1995, after battling multiple myeloma, a form of bone cancer. There are only a few people who know as many different “aspects of the city called New Orleans as did Allison. I often ran into her at the second-line parades, funerals, and funky-butt little clubs where any brass band might be playing. She would follow a band for hours, go out at night and listen to groups in the clubs and draw from this energy to do the administrative work she would direct the next day.
Along with Quint Davis, Allison was the driving force in starting the New Orleans Jazz &: Heritage Festival. Allison did love her festival. Many times out at the Fair Grounds I heard her say, “This festival is the greatest place on the planet.” For years she conducted the artist interviews at the Music Heritage Stage.
I first met Allison at Tipitina’s. She was then manager for Professor Longhair & the Blues Scholars. She worked with Bo Dollis, Big Chief of the Wild Magnolias; Monk Boudreaux, Big Chief of the Golden Eagles; Willie Tee and his brother Earl Turbinton; and later guided the Rebirth Brass Band to world-wide acclaim. I don’t remember who introduced us. I had moved to town to help organize and construct non-commercial community radio station WWOZ-FM, and someone thought I should know her. To whoever that person was, I want to say thanks – you were right. (Eventually, Allison would make major contributions to the station as a volunteer and employer for over a decade.)
For 19 years our paths crossed countless times as we became friends, co-workers and next-door neighbors, and shared a great love for culture. Of course, there are hundreds of people in this city who could say the same thing about her. It is in deep love and respect that I write about our Allison.
Two stories stand out most when I think of her. Those who know us both might find them humorous. It was Allison who reminded me of these tales one night at a local pizzeria in 1994.
The first business relationship I had with Allison was in 1979. I was organizing a benefit for WWOZ. The performers I wanted for the show were Professor Longhair, James Booker, and the Neville Brothers. Each artist had verbally agreed to do it, but with Fess things were a bit difficult because he couldn’t ask his band to play for a reduced rate. For this I needed to talk to Allison.
I met with Allison and explained to her the idea of the benefit. She immediately, adamantly, flatly refused. She told me the days of Fess playing for a reduced rate were over. He had paid his dues and that I must be dreaming.
When it came to the artists she represented she was always very direct and to the point about what she felt was in their best interests. She taught many local musicians how not to get ripped off in the sometimes mystifying business of music. She taught many local musicians “to keep the publishing.”
I pleaded with Allison to talk to Fess and the band about it and see if there was any way to make the event happen. Finally, she grudgingly agreed to do this but offered me very little hope.
A couple of days later she called me up and told me it might actually be able to happen if we could resolve a scheduling problem. We did, and it happened at Jimmy’s in 1979: a benefit titled “Ain’t Nothing But A Party!” with Fess, the Nevilles, and Booker.
In 1983 Allison was producing concerts at the Contemporary Arts Center. At the time I was working with a young brass band, the Rebirth, to help them get a little recognition. I asked Allison if they could open a show at the CAC. Maybe play two numbers before the real show began. The Rebirth and I showed up and Allison brought the band on. Halfway through the first song she pulled the band off and berated me for having the gall to put these amateurs on her stage.
Well, back at that pizzeria in 1994 Allison looked at me and said, “You know, I’m glad you heard something in that young band.”
I said, “Thank you.”
She helped change the face of the local music scene in many ways. In 1982, before the K-Paul explosion of Cajun cuisine, Cajun and zydeco music were rarely heard in New Orleans. There was a small amount at Jazz Festival and in Jefferson Parish, where Allen Fontenot held court. That year Allison produced the WWOZ Cajun & Zydeco Festival, a six night event held over three consecutive weekends at Tipitina’s. For these concerts she brought in southwest Louisiana artists who were relatively unknown in New Orleans at that time. People like Walter Mouton, Ambrose Thibodeaux, Leon Thomas, Sady Courville, and others.
With this series of concerts Allison proved to New Orleans club owners that they could book this type of music and people would come. At that time jazz and rhythm & blues were the mainstay of the local music menu, which was great. The Cajun and zydeco music just added to all that.
Allison could beat a triangle and she accompanied many a group on a Creole waltz or two-step. With the triangle in her hands she could bring together people of different cultures and different ethnic origins. John Sinclair said, “I remember Allison at Indian practice or at the parades beating that triangle. Man, she would always be right on that beat.”
Her long association with Bo Dollis, Monk Boudreaux, and many other Indian tribes took her throughout the streets and back uptown neighborhoods of New Orleans. It also took her to many different parts of the world.
Danny and Blue Lu Barker shared a special friendship with Allison. Danny always said that he’d never seen a woman love the music as much as Allison. He watched and contributed to her work with respect for many years. That, in itself, is a great compliment.
When I think of Allison Miner, I think of a person with tremendous creative energy. A positive force in society with a very open mind. A person who radiated beauty and had the strength to get many things done. When I think of Allison Miner I will always remember that original, unpretentious, resonant, and scintillating Allison laugh.
Somehow, I think she might get a kick out of this.
“Thank You, Pretty Baby”
for Allison Miner
As the last days of 1995
gather & scatter, never
to be seen
our hearts reach out
to the spirits of our friends
who have passed
in the last year, with grateful thanks
for everything they meant to us
& the contributions they made to our lives
as they passed their years
in our midst-
with special thoughts
of my beloved rabbi,
The Righteous One,
Stanley Bob Rudnick
& just now gone from us,
the one & only Ms. Allison Miner,
of modern and ancestral music
in all its splendid guises,
champion of Professor Longhair
co-creator of the New Orleans Jazz &
fund-raiser, development specialist
pioneer of WWOZ Radio,
manager of the Re-Birth Brass Band
& Big Chief Bo Dollis
& the Wild Magnolias
of the Mardi Gras Indian Nation,
singer of songs, triangle player
& mother of sons,
benefactor to thousands,
friend & inspiration to so many-
Thank you, pretty abay,
as Professor Longhair would trill
“for Allison & her party” at Tipitina’s-
Thank you, until we meet again
– John Sinclair
New Orleans December 30, 1995
for Jonathan & Rashi Kaslow
Music by Professor Longhair,
House Party New Orleans Style
(The Lost Sessions 1971- 1972)
on Rounder Records