I was as stunned and saddened as anyone by the news of Allen Tousaint’s death at 77 on Nov. 10, while on tour in Spain.
I’ll write more about him soon. But right now, I want to draw attention to an interesting development, reported yesterday by Doug MacCash at NOLA.com.
A Facebook page titled “Allen Toussaint Circle,” proposing that Lee Circle be renamed Toussaint Circle in honor of the legendary composer and pianist who died Tuesday (Nov. 10) has garnered social media attention.
On June 24, Mayor Mitch Landrieu proposed the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate army, on the St. Charles Avenue traffic circle as a gesture of racial reconciliation in the aftermath of the June 17 massacre of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., by Dylann Roof, a militant white supremacist.
Since then, the city has buzzed with discussion of whether Confederate monuments should be removed. And, if so, what should replace them?
An online petition related to the “Allen Toussaint Circle” Facebook page, titled “Honor Allen Toussaint – Rename Lee Circle,” meant to formally propose replacing Lee’s image with Toussaint’s has gathered 3,943 supporters from around the globe as of Friday morning.
Aside from Toussaint’s gifts for melody and harmony, his handiness with a hook and his innate sense of funkiness, he had an ear for lyrics that captured truths and anticipated needs. He distilled the pain of romantic longing into “Lipstick traces/On a cigarette.” He penned “Yes We Can Can” nearly forty years before Obama hung his successful White House run on the same sentiment — though it’s rhythmically more astute as phrased by Toussaint.
In New Orleans, a city known for musical innovation, imponderable dualities and inscrutable personal style, Toussaint epitomized it all: He was a mild-mannered, soft-spoken creator of hits who drove a cream-colored 1974 Silver Shadow Rolls Royce, who could look elegantly complete in a suit jacket, silk tie, and a pair of white athletic socks and sandals.
The petition to replace Robert E. Lee with Toussaint sounds about right.