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Lionel Ferbos, at 103 the Oldest Jazz Musician, Has Died

New Orleans trumpeter was still working until last year

Lionel Ferbos
Lionel Ferbos

Lionel Ferbos, believed to be the country’s oldest working jazz musician, has died at age 103, according to published reports. The New Orleans trumpeter passed away July 19 at his home in that city’s French Quarter; the cause of death was not announced.

Ferbos, who was born July 17, 1911, performed at his own 102nd birthday party and at every New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, finally giving up last year when he became too weak to hold his trumpet. During his career he performed not only at dance halls and clubs but in parks, prisons, schools and elsewhere.

According to an Associated Press report, “He was also the last living member of the WPA band, formed during the Depression by laborers in the city’s Works Progress Administration.”

Early in his career, Ferbos performed with society jazz bands in New Orleans venues such as the Pythian Roof Garden, San Jacinto Hall and the Pelican Club. According to the AP report, he also performed with Walter Pichon and Captain John Handy in the ’30s, and with saxophonist Harold Dejan and trumpeters Herbert Leary, Gene Ware and Sidney Desvignes, as well as blues singer Mamie Smith.

Ferbos rarely performed outside of New Orleans, although he toured Europe eight times with a ragtime orchestra. In the 1940s, Ferbos wrote charts for Danny Barker’s Fairview Baptist Band. He also held non-music jobs in order to supplement his income, and was married for 75 years to Margarite Gilyot, a seamstress.

Originally Published