One of the many privileges I’ve been able to enjoy as the publisher of OffBeat is the ability to honor the many beautiful spirits who have created the music that’s become the basis of my life’s work. Before she died, Antoinette K-Doe said to me many times that “it was much better to send flowers to a person when they were above ground.” Such it was with the great Wardell Quezergue, who passed away Monday evening at the age of 81.
OffBeat honored Mr. Quezergue with the magazine’s “Lifetime Achievement Award” in music at our Best of the Beat Awards in January 2008. We produced a video that honored him, as well as a tribute to him at the awards show that was historic. Following the awards, the Ponderosa Stomp honored him at a Lincoln Center tribute event, and Loyola University presented him with an honorary doctorate degree. The man was just so deserving of accolades.
It was very sweet to see how much Mr. Quezergue not only appreciated the attention and the award, but it was also pretty amazing to see in what high regard local musicians held him. He was a man that a lot of casual music listeners didn’t know, because he was behind the scenes, not in the band. He was a composer, arranger, bandleader, producer and educator did so much more than arranging and composing so many New Orleans R&B hits and standards: “Groove Me,” ” Mr. Big Stuff,” “Iko, Iko” and many, many more.
His list of musical accomplishments are many, but what was also so wonderful about Wardell was his sense of humor, his kindness, and the inspiration he provided for countless musicians and just about everyone who knew him. He taught music at St. Mary’s Academy, and encouraged many a local kid to pursue a career in music. Mr. Quezergue had lost his eyesight as a result of diabetes over 10 years ago, but amazingly, continued to work as an arranger with the help of his son Brian (one of 14 children he had with his Japanese-born wife of 60 years, Yoshi, whom he met while stationed in Japan).
Mr. Quezergue was beloved by all who met him, and he will be missed terribly by the New Orleans and world music community. A great one has left us.