Our New Orleanian friend (and lover of Shakespeare) Professor Thorny Penfield shuffled off this mortal coil early Tuesday morning, August 21, in the company of his beloved wife, Diane, and close New York family and friends.
He’d suffered a cerebral hemorrhage approximately two weeks ago, and had been in intensive care at Albany, New York, near his lifelong summer home on Lake George. He was not able to recover. He will be cremated and a music-heavy celebration will be held in New Orleans at a later date. It will take time, but know there will be plenty of notice.
Thorny was nothing if not an appreciator, preserver, and promoter of New Orleans music and its creators. He was an original founder of Tipitina’s, and former coordinator of the New Orleans Blues Society and the Crescent City Blues Club. He loved the blues.
He remained a frequent patron of Tip’s, and always pulled friends and visitors in with him, converting them into congregant members of the Church of Fess.
Thorny was a loving friend and supporter to many New Orleans musicians, including the late greats, James Booker and Timothea Becker. Also counted in the number are Deacon John, Spencer Bohren, Tom McDermott, Leigh Harris, John Rankin, Phil DeGruy, John Fohl, and Mark Fowler, to name just a few. Supported by his host of musical friends, he held numerous jam sessions and musical birthday celebrations and memorials at his beautiful Uptown and Bayou St. John homes, often introducing talented musicians new to the city. Penfield worked tirelessly to support the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, as an employee, a brochure-totin’ volunteer, and host to housefuls of Festival-attending friends and bed and breakfast guests. Thorny could always be found in the Blues Tent, or lined up for fried catfish or some dripping and delicious part of the forbidden, but beloved, pig. He did love to party.
Want to know how you can immediately and best memorialize Thorny Penfield?
Go out and listen and dance to live local music. Purchase multiple copies of locally produced music and spread it around. Work for peace and social justice. Get involved with public education in New Orleans and volunteer to make things better for our children. Pray for those who need prayer. Make friends, treat them as you would wish to be treated, and keep them for the rest of your life.