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.
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: