“It has always been embedded in us to play music,” Travis “Trumpet Black” Hill once said of his musical family that included his grandfather Jessie “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” Hill plus the Andrews, Lastie and Nelson clans. That statement also rings true in the way—particularly in the Treme neighborhood—that New Orleans musicians respond to learning of the death of one of their own. It is “embedded” in them to pick up their horns, their drums, their guitars and play.
Through their tears, family, fellow musicians, friends and fans celebrated the life of Travis “Trumpet Black” Hill after news of his tragic death reached them on Monday, May 4, 2015. The cause was a dental infection that reached his heart soon after he arrived to perform in Japan. He was just 28 years old.
Second lines wove through the streets of the 6th Ward and on Monday, May 11, a special event—the Travis Hill Fest—took place on a large stage erected next door to the Ooh Poo Pah Doo Bar. The brass band community with groups including the New Breed, a young ensemble Hill had mentored, and the Rebirth were there. Hill’s cousin, trumpeter/vocalist James Andrews, who gave Hill his nickname, blew with more passion than ever. Ditto for trombonist Corey Henry as he led his Treme Funktet, of which Hill was a member.
The hugely talented Travis “Trumpet Black” Hill was a genuine rising star in his hometown of New Orleans and was quickly gaining world-wide attention. Hill appeared to be on a mission after enduring over eight years in jail for an armed robbery he was charged with as a teenager.
“I was a young kid when I went in and I came out as a man,” Hill said soon after his release in 2011.
Travis’ first performance in 2011 was with his cousin, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. It represented a full circle, as it was as a member of the Trombone Shorty Brass Band that an eight-year-old Trumpet Black started his musical journey out on Jackson Square. His first “indoor” gig was at Donna’s Bar & Grill. A thoughtful and charming man, he played “Happy Birthday” for the club’s co-proprietor, Charlie Simms’ 80th birthday celebration on April 13, 2015.
Some seven months ago, Hill solidified his own hot shot band, Trumpet Black & the Heart Attacks, that favored a lot of New Orleans rhythm and blues. The group was heading to Europe this summer.
Trumpet Black endured the hardships of prison only to be struck down by an infected tooth. The sadness of his loss overwhelms while those who loved him carry on the only way they know how—with a tear, a song and a second line.