John Berthelot, composer, arranger and founder of Great Southern Records passed away on Wednesday, February 23. Funeral services were private.
Born at Touro Infirmary, Berthelot began taking clarinet lessons in grade school and majored in music education at Loyola University in New Orleans. He became a member of the Contours, playing saxophone, and backing artists such as Smiley Lewis and Ernie K-Doe. After earning his masters degree in music composition, Berthelot published his Opus 1—Sonatina for French Horn and Piano.
After finishing his military service, Berthelot started his own record label, Great Southern. Artists recording for Great Southern included Spencer Bohren and the Pfister Sisters. Berthelot’s success eventually led to running the Jazz Fest record tent for nine years.
Berthelot’s compositions and arrangements of classical, jazz and popular music include his 1967 classical composition Essay for Orchestra recorded by the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra; his jazz composition “Cityscape: New Orleans” recorded by the Eastman Jazz Ensemble; and the swamp pop composition “I’m from the South.” The broad range of Berthelot’s interests as a composer, producer and label head are evident on last year’s CD Compositions, Arrangements and Productions of a New Orleans Musician.