By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
“If you came here to mourn, you came to the wrong place,” said Father Tony Ricard, who celebrated the funeral Mass July 8 for musician, composer, band leader, arranger and producer Dave Bartholomew.
From beginning to end, the funeral was a musical celebration of Bartholomew’s genius, with Jon Cleary, Deacon John Moore, Glen David Andrews, relatives and others singing and performing in tribute to the man who not only had influenced music for more than 80 years but also the lives of many local, national and international musicians.
Bartholomew died June 23 at the age of 100.
“He had a big influence on all the Treme guys – Glen David Andrews, Kermit Ruffins, Trombone Shorty,” said Ron Bartholomew, the youngest of his eight children. “My daddy would show them how to play old, traditional songs … and tell them to go where you can get paid … and to get their music together. He would always tell them how to play right.”
“I can never repay him,” Andrews said before playing a powerful rendition of “I’ll Fly Away.” “This is a good man, a great man.”
Son Don Bartholomew called his father his friend and confidante.
“To me, my dad was the greatest artist of all time,” Don Bartholomew said. “He created rock and roll. He couldn’t help it.”
But, Don said, for all of his musical fame, he was much more to him.
“He is one hundred times better a dad than all that music,” he said. “My father lived to be 100 because he is a 100.”
Cut sugar cane in Edgard
“When looking at his life, he was a trailblazer,” Ron Bartholomew said. “He did a lot of things before others. He was always a great musician, even when he was young.”
From a boy cutting sugar cane in Edgard, Louisiana, Bartholomew was first recognized as having raw talent by Peter Davis, who was Louis Armstrong’s teacher.
Ron Bartholomew said Davis got his hair cut at Bartholomew’s grandfather Louis’ barbershop and would tell his grandfather, also a musician, he would do something with Dave one day.
“My daddy first started playing a tuba, like his grandfather, but gravitated to trumpet because he loved Louis Armstrong,” Ron said. “He idolized Louis Armstrong – that’s who he wanted to be like.
“He would play on riverboats with musical greats and took over Fats Pichon’s band in 1941 before joining the U.S. Army, where he learned to write and arrange music with the 196th Army Ground Forces Band. He would take his weekends and learn on the weekend.”
After the war, he started a dance band, Dave Bartholomew and the Royal Playboys, in New Orleans. He had a hit song, “Country Boy,” in 1950 and became a scout for Imperial Records out of Los Angeles.
He discovered Fats Domino at a club in New Orleans “and signed him,” Ron Bartholomew said. “They recorded ‘The Fat Man’ song that very night.”
He continued working with Domino and received co-writing credits on many of Domino’s songs.
“My daddy recorded with a lot of people,” Ron Bartholomew said. “If you came through New Orleans during that time (late ’40s, early ’50s), 95% of the artists at Cosimo’s (J&B Recording Studio) recorded with my daddy. As a scout, he rented Cosimo’s out with local talent to continue on with New Orleans rhythm and blues, which later we know as rock and roll.”
“I would say that almost every song he recorded, he played on,” Ron said. “If there was a horn part for it, he played. If there was background singing part, he would do it. They were cranking out songs almost every day, if they weren‘t playing a live gig.”
He also worked with Lloyd Price (whom he discovered), Earl King, Robert Parker, T-Bone Walker and Frankie Ford.
In 1991, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Seven years later, he was inducted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and then the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009.
Ron Bartholomew said his father really only stopped playing his horn about two years ago. His last Jazz Fest performance was around 2011 with Dr. John, but he performed several times after that.
“As much as he’s known in the music world, he’s a big humanitarian,” Ron Bartholomew said. “He didn’t brag about it, he just did it. He didn’t think the recognition was important.”
His support of Redeemer and later Redeemer-Seton High School and Xavier University (from which he received an honorary doctorate) were mentioned at his funeral by family friend Cynthia Cheri-Woolridge, who was music minister and keyboardist at the Mass.
He also helped St. Augustine High School, St. Mary’s Academy, St. Monica and St. Raymond Church, where he attended church before joining St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish.
“My dad was in the Dad’s Club at Redeemer and attended the PTA meetings if he was in town,” Ron Bartholomew said.
“My daddy felt like his success was a blessing from the man upstairs and felt like he should use that to help society,” he said. “My daddy helped a lot of people – to make sure everybody had a good life and could live the next day.”
He would often go to nursing homes and play for the elderly, especially at the Sisters of the Holy Family’s Lafon Nursing Home.
“That’s what he loved to do,” Ron Bartholomew said. “He wanted people to be happy.”
As his granddaughter Elena Temple-Webb read 1st Corinthians during Mass, she broke up reading the words: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised up incorruptible.
Sound the trumpet!
Father Ricard jumped up and said, “Time out, girl. They need to hear the words of the trumpet,” and hugged her. Father Ricard’s homily would feature several musicians playing trumpets – heralding the next generation to continue the musical tradition.
Father Ricard said it was no coincidence his services were held at St. Gabriel Church, for the Angel Gabriel had a trumpet and was waiting to pass it on to Bartholomew when he entered heaven.
By the end of Mass, Father Ricard issued a challenge to live a life of service as did Dave Bartholomew.
“Take a moment to look at your life, and ask yourself, ‘Is there anything that would prevent me from going through the gates of heaven right now?’” he said. “Now is the time to change. Now is the time to fix it. … Let the dead bury the dead … so we can have the same confidence as Mr. Dave had … God will call us home. The question is, ‘Are you ready to answer the call?’”
As Bartholomew’s casket was carried out of church, the Treme Brass Band performed his well-known song, “Blue Monday.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at email@example.com.