Charles Lee Sims, the longtime chef-owner of famed French Quarter jazz club Donna’s Bar & Grill, passed away on Sunday, February 5. He was 81 years old.
Sims was born in Rome, GA in 1935, but was raised in Chicago. He spent 13 years in the Navy and was a crew member on the USS Skate, the first nuclear submarine to surface the Arctic ice of the North Pole. When his stint in the Navy ended, Sims attended the Culinary Institute of America, eventually becoming the head chef on Amtrak’s iconic “City of New Orleans” line, which runs from Chicago to the Crescent City.
Sims met Donna Poniatowski during one of his stays in New Orleans, and the pair opened Donna’s Bar & Grill on North Rampart Street in 1993 (they were married the following year in nearby Armstrong Park). Donna’s quickly became a hotspot for local musicians—particularly brass bands—though their focus shifted to smaller jazz combos after a few years. Artists like Kermit Ruffins, Bob French, Leroy Jones, Shannon Powell are among the performers who had residencies at club before it shut its doors in 2009.
A memorial for Sims will be held at the Carver Theater on Saturday, March 4 at 11 a.m., and a jazz funeral is also in the works for the same day. Bonerama trombonist Craig Klein will host a pair of Donna’s Revisited shows at Snug Harbor on Thursday, February 9 in Sims’ honor.
Here’s a very nice video by Keith Hill of Charlie’s 71st birthday celebration at Donna’s.