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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Oliver "Who Shot the La La" Morgan, RIP

In some ways, Oliver Morgan was like many of the other evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. Floodwaters from the levee breach in the Industrial Canal engulfed his Lower Ninth Ward home, and so he and his wife, Sylvia, went to stay in Atlanta where two of his five children lived. To Atlantans, he may have been just another evacuee who decided to make the city his new home. They even bought a house.

To New Orleans, he was better-known for his lone but huge 1964 R&B hit, “Who Shot the La La,” a curious take on the then-recent death of another New Orleans R&B star, Lawrence “Prince La La” Nelson. (Nelson actually died of a drug overdose, not a gunshot wound, but the song turns the death into a mystery.) Morgan himself passed away July 31 at the age of 74.

Morgan never matched the success of “Who Shot the La La,” a jaunty, syncopated tune filled with loads of local references but with a melody so catchy it became a favorite during Mardi Gras. He also became a fixture at Jazz Fest, often parading around in the New Orleans “second line” style, waving an umbrella and leading the crowd in a line.

He could often be seen performing in nightclubs over the years. One of the more entertaining music moments would be catching Morgan pairing up with another R&B legend, Al Johnson, at local clubs as fans would patiently dance the night away in anticipation of Morgan’s hit and then Johnson’s Mardi Gras classic, “Carnival Time.” He did so even after having suffered a stroke in 1997, just after completing his first album, I’m Home, on Allen Toussaint’s now-defunct NYNO Records label.

Morgan and Johnson often would be backed by a band featuring on piano fellow Ninth Ward neighbor Eddie Bo, who arranged and performed on Morgan’s famous tune when it was produced at Cosimo Matassa’s studio on the edge of the French Quarter. This also was where Fats Domino, Morgan’s old friend and another Lower Ninth Ward neighbor, produced his countless hits.

For more on Morgan, check out both his obituary and multimedia tribute in today’s Times-Picayune and a tribute in the New Orleans community newspaper Louisiana Weekly.

Morgan's death preceded that of another New Orleans music legend, jazz saxophonist Earl Turbinton, who died Aug. 3 after a long illness at age 65. They join a long line of New Orleans musicians who have died since the flood, including Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Alvin Batiste and Timothea.

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