Coco Robicheaux Passes After Collapsing on Frenchmen Street

Coco Robicheaux passed away in the early evening Friday, November 25 at Tulane Medical Center. He had been rushed to the hospital after having a heart attack and collapsing at his favorite hangout, the Apple Barrel on Frenchmen Street, where he could often be seen lounging on the outdoor bench in his trademark reptilian boots.

Coco Robicheaux. Photo by Derek Bridges.

Coco Robicheaux. Photo by Derek Bridges.

Robicheaux, born Curtis Arceneaux on October 25, 1947, was best known as a blues singer and guitarist, and was a frequent performer at the Apple Barrel. In a 1995 OffBeat interview with Coco Robicheaux, he said that his first professional gig was playing trombone and singing at a Gonzales, Louisiana sock hop in 1959 for which he made $1.

After moving to New Orleans at age 17, he found his first guitar in pieces on Bourbon Street, reconstructed it at home, and began teaching himself to play. After recording tracks at Cosimo Matassa’s studio in the mid-sixties, he spent years traveling and doing odd-jobs before returning to New Orleans in 1992 to turn his full attention to playing music. His first album, Spiritland, was released in 1994, and helped him become a premiere New Orleans blues player. As with so many New Orleans musicians, he gained a large audience in Europe, and traveled often for festivals and other gigs. He was particularly adored in France.

As a founder of the Professor Longhair Foundation, one of his most visible acccomplishments was sculpting the bust of Fess that stands in the entrance at Tipitina’s. He was also well known for his connection to the strange mix of religions that steep in South Louisiana, from Voodoo to Catholic Saints to the legends and spirits of the swamp. His name, Coco Robicheaux, came from the Louisiana folk tale of boy taken by the loup garou. His family had called him by the name from the time he was a little boy—it was a popular name to use for frightening kids when they were behaving badly. Most recently, he could be seen in HBO’s Treme, performing a Voodoo sacrifice inside WWOZ’s studio.

We will provide an update with information on Robicheaux’s funeral and any tributes as soon as we can.

Performing May 18, 1996 in Cusset, France:

  • Tesla4all

    : (

  • a fan of Offbeat

    a life cut short– thanks for this window into it

  • saw him in the TV series TREME… rest in peace, Coco

  • Geoff J in Tampa Bay

    RIP, COCO – it was awesome knowing you & playing with you

  • Ajax2112

    I was blessed to be able to spend a great deal of time with this wonderful spirit, back in my early years… he had a huge effect on everyone around him… rest in Peace, my brother.

  • Dianafruge

    didnt know if I should through up or cry ūüôĀ
    we all will miss ya …

  • Royeuresr

    A sad day!

  • Royeuresr

    A sad day…Spiritland , his first L.P. was beautiful with lovely¬†packaging!

  • Bibiana

    Dear Sweet Coco
    It was a pleasure to get to know you, what a wonderful person, talent musician, what a charecter!!¬†¬†I use to¬†love to see you walking on New Orleans streets saying hi to everybody on your purple suit, cowboy hat and alligator boots…We are gonna miss you so much. One day, we were passing by Apple Barrel during the day and Coco was playing, my son Bento, 3 years old at the time, saw him and rushed inside passing by the opened door. He stopped righ in front of Coco and Coco offered my son the microphone. Bento started to sing while Coco was¬†playing his guitar, side by side. The moment was registered by all the¬†flash of the cameras from the customers of the Apple Barrel. I will never forget that moment. Love you Coco, forever!!!¬†

  • Ken

    RIP Coco. You were definitely one of a kind and that’s what we’ll miss most.

  • RIP my friend

  • Lord David
  • Jimgabour

    Little Black Hen
    Copyright  ©2002, 2011 Jim Gabour
     
    I wrote this in 2002, as a tribute to my good and deep friend the bluesman and Choctaw Indian medicine man Coco Robicheaux, who suddenly and without warning moved on to The Next Gig on Friday 25 November 2011, while sitting on a barstool at the Apple Barrel, undoubtedly enjoying his usual chilled shot of Patron Silver tequila.  I met him as he rode up to that very bar on his bike last week, and we spoke about his coming by my house to pick up the young fig tree sapling I had rooted in a pot for him.  He wanted more life in his back yard. 
     
    He was smiling as we said goodbye and he went inside.
     
    This story was about another gift.  And Coco’s.
     
    * * *
     
    I went to give Coco Robicheaux his birthday present last night.
     
    I’d missed his real birthday last week, but knew he was scheduled to perform at the old version of the Voodoo Fest, in Congo Square.  Under the moss-draped arms of half a hundred massive, dark-limbed live oaks.  On the very ground where whip-scarred slaves used to dance.  Where animal-skinned drums filled the dense night air with the rhythms of an even darker continent.  Where sweating traiteurs illicitly practiced medicine, and offered to wreak mayhem on errant spouses.
     
    They sell mustard-covered weenies in white-bread buns to tourists there now.  During the daytime.
     
    This was the last Fest that would be celebrated under a full moon for some time.  The next will be in 2020, according to the staff astronomers of the Times-Picayune, who failed to note that the power of the big bright sphere was amplified even further as this was also a Blue Moon, one of those rare months in which a full moon appears twice.
     
    It was already up, its color mixing with the fading sunset, when I drove into Armstrong Park, which now surrounds Congo Square.  I sat near the stage on my bicycle.  The sun had set, and the stage lights were already on.  And there was Coco, authentic Choctaw medicine man, healer of hearts, musician.
     
    He was singing a song about his grandmother‚Äôs ‚Äď his¬†Granmere¬†Philomene‚Äôs¬†‚Äď favorite chicken,¬†La Petite¬†Poule¬†Noire.¬†¬†Her Little Black Hen.¬†¬†He says his grandma loved that hen, carried it around like a cat, because the tiny bird took on all the hoodoo, all the bad stuff that was floating around, absorbed it, reflected it, and protected the family.¬†¬†The chicken was the family‚Äôs talisman and guardian, and while it lived they felt safe.
     
    The song is a slow, eerie, blues number.  I think the bird and his grandmother would both have enjoyed it.
     
    I dismounted, walked up to the front of the ground level stage, and smiled at my friend.¬†¬†He was in that state of spiritual transport that comes over him onstage.¬†¬†He always offers an audience something real, something not to be confused with mere performance, but on this rare conjunctive night he was radiating energy.¬†¬†I wasn‚Äôt able to tell if he could see me, because he had on very dark shades and the lights were right in his face.¬†¬†He was drinking deeply from a bottle of Tabasco hot sauce between lines, as he does, to keep his voice healthy, and nodding to his¬†frottoir¬†—¬†rubboard¬†‚Äď player¬†Chaz.¬†¬†I took the sack with Coco‚Äôs wrapped birthday present, a pair of very old alligator-shaped¬†¬†salt-and-pepper shakers, out of my backpack and laid it on his monitor speaker.¬†¬†He saw me then and smiled, but never missed a line.
     
    Coco signaled for a harmonica solo, and a tall hairy fellow started up a wail that was almost human.¬†¬†At that very instant, there was an intrusion ‚Äď the siren of an approaching ambulance grew and grew until it passed right behind the stage.¬†¬†The odd thing was that it blended perfectly into the solo.¬†¬†It was even in the right key.¬†¬†A deeper, strange, urban blues.¬†¬†I pulled out a pen and scribbled, hen-scratched, on my note pad ‚Äď you need to carry one in this town or you could lose valuable bits of your own life to faulty memory ‚Äď that a siren would make a great addition to the Black Hen tune.
     
    I waved back to Coco and moved out of the lights.  The crowd was small, but the vibe was intense, the smoke of a dozen different incenses filling the space between dancers and vendors of mojo paraphernalia, dolls and potions and oils and ritual clothing. 
     
    I felt safe, somehow, hearing the sound of an urban emergency defused in the comfort of low and slow blues.  And I thought:  Coco Robicheaux may well be New Orleans’ own  Petite Poule Noire.
     

  • Susan

    What a beatiful story..thanks

  • HEATHER

    Thank you, Jim. 

  • Heather

    The outpouring of love and support is heartwarming, and has been comforting.

    We have created a Memorial Love Board for my father on Spiritland as a place to tell stories, share pictures and videos, and especially to add some humor, because anyone that knew Curtis/Coco knew that he was funny.

    http://www.spiritland.com/abovelove

    It is my wish to create a museum to honor New Orleans musicians in his memory.

    ~Heather

    ps i happened to be living in France during that time and ended up on tour. He was treated like a god in Europe. Thank you for posting. Great memories!

  • Heather

    PPS Why was Coco never on the cover of OffBeat?

  • Eerieaerie

    Oh, no! At least he died on Frenchman street: something we can all aspire to.

  • Ray Hurford

    So so sad. RIP

  • myrna

    You gave me my tiger stripes….miss ya

  • SelenaMillieux

    I am listening to his music now after watching Treme,what a legend