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Harold Battiste, New Orleans Producer, Arranger & Musician, Dies at 83

Worked with Sam Cooke, Dr. John, Ellis Marsalis

Harold Battiste

Harold Battiste, a New Orleans-born composer, producer, arranger and musician who was involved in dozens of hit records, died June 19 after a lengthy illness. The place of death was not reported. Battiste was 83.

Born in New Orleans on Oct. 28, 1931, Harold Raymond Battiste Jr. started his music career as a saxophonist and pianist before becoming involved in behind-the-scenes activities. He arranged Sam Cooke’s first secular hit “You Send Me,” in 1957 and four years later formed AFO Records (which stood for All for One). The label’s first hit was Barbara George’s “I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More)” and Battiste was also involved as producer and arranger on hits such as Joe Jones’ “You Talk Too Much” and Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya.” He also played piano on Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

In the jazz arena, Battiste released the debut album by Ellis Marsalis, Monkey Puzzle. He also released some of the earliest work of Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack and later arranged and produced the artist’s Gris Gris, Babylon and Gumbo albums.

Battiste moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s, where he produced many hit records for Sonny and Cher, including their first, “I Got You Babe,” and served as the musical director for the duo’s television program. He later went on to play piano with Tom Waits and worked with numerous artists, including Art Neville, the O’Jays, Larry Williams, Eddie Bo, King Floyd and Willie Tee.

Upon returning to New Orleans in 1989, Battiste became involved in the city’s music community in several capacities. He lectured alongside Ellis Marsalis as a member of the Jazz Studies faculty of the University of New Orleans, served as a board member on the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation and worked with other local organizations. In 2010, he published his memoir, Unfinished Blues.

Originally Published