Gospel singer, performer and Central City’s pride and joy Jo “Cool” Davis passed away at his home after coming back from the hospital on Friday, August 5, 2016. He was 63 and had been in poor health for the last several years. Davis suffered from diabetes and lost a leg to the disease 10 years ago.
Davis was a native and resident of Central City and was a fixture at Tipitina’s, where he worked as a doorman for many years. “Jo was everybody’s buddy at the back door of Tip’s,” said Jan Ramsey, OffBeat Publisher. “He used to let me and my friends move up to the front of the stage during concerts by letting us in the side door. Gotta love Jo ‘Cool’!” He was involved in trying to revive the Dew Drop Inn with several benefit concerts he organized in the 1990s.
The December 1999 cover of OffBeat featured Davis. Talking about gospel music, Davis made these comments: “When people say gospel music, they automatically think it means church. No, church is for worship. The ministers really were against gospel music for artists to get out and develop it. Gospel music and spiritual music are not the same. It’s more like they’re all first cousins. You have your church music—your anthems and hymns you sing in church. Then you have your guys like Al Green and the Mighty Clouds of Joy who went out and promoted gospel music. The true meaning of gospel music is good news from heaven and it’s about Jesus Christ.”
Davis was often told he sounded like Sam Cooke. “Rev. Herman Brown told me a long time ago that I had the flavor of Sam Cooke but what people don’t understand is that I didn’t get into Sam Cooke singing gospel until I was in my forties. Deacon John told me one time, ‘You need to get into that Sam Cooke.’ So Fred LeBlanc of Cowboy Mouth made me a tape with Sam Cooke live and I said, ‘Man, this blows me away!’”
A mainstay at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival’s gospel tent, Davis talked about being the first to perform gospel in nightclubs. “In my opinion, I took gospel further than [Andraé] Crouch and [Thomas] Dorsey because the fact is I took it into the clubs. You’ve got to understand something about New Orleans: It’s not a religious city. It’s a partying city. You’ve got to put gospel into that band thing and they’ll pay attention to it.”
Commenting on how he got his name Jo “Cool” Davis: “I always sang gospel but I also sang rhythm and blues with a group called Cool Enterprises. And they said, ‘You know something about you—you’re cool. You don’t jump. You can move a crowd by just standing there. You’re Jo Cool.’”
Jo “Cool” Davis, with then–House of Blues talent booker Sonny Schneidau, started the popular House of Blues Gospel Brunches every Sunday. Remembering Jo “Cool,” Sonny offered these comments: “‘Yeah, yeah, yeah… Alright, alright!’ That was Jo ‘Cool’ Davis. Always positive, always smiling, and unmistakably Jo.
I met him when he started at Tipitina’s in 1982, a few years after we opened the club. He and I spent thousands of great nights together in the trenches. Jo wore many hats through the years… doorman, performer, emcee and promoter to name a few. He helped to give that building a face, a personality, a soul.
There was never a better club doorman. Gracious, knowledgeable and welcoming, yet able to handle a sticky situation with ease. I pitied the drunken fool who crossed the line and found the sidewalk with Jo’s assistance!
It was on my watch as Talent Buyer at Tip’s that he built the Holiday Gospel Extravaganza into a cherished annual event. When I moved to HOB, and was tasked with launching a weekly Gospel Brunch, there was only one man to call. Jo helped to program and cohosted it for over two decades. His contributions were many and the lives he touched in a positive way are countless. Above all, he was a kind and generous man, always willing to help and give his time, a loving family man, a fun guy who relished a good laugh, and a tireless advocate for New Orleans, its culture and gospel music. Jo had a heart of gold. I will miss him a lot. He was Cool.”
A funeral service was held at Trinity Episcopal Church on August 13. Davis is survived by his wife Evelyn, his daughter Charlene and his twin brother George.