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Remembering Dr. John 1941-2019

Not just a great musician, Malcolm Rebennack was a walking embodiment of New Orleans’ musical legacy

Dr. John
Dr. John at the 2011 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (photo: Joel A. Siegel)

New Orleans music icon Malcolm Rebennack, known to the world as Dr. John, died of a heart attack on June 6 at his home in Lake Pontchartrain, La. He’d been in ill health for several years, and blamed years of drug use for a laundry list of health ailments that included arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and bone spurs in his neck. He was 77.

In a career that spanned over 60 years, the pianist, guitarist, singer, and producer had a Top 10 hit, won six Grammys, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and performed at both the Super Bowl and White House. As he attracted serious attention from important rock musicians and their fans in the 1970s, Dr. John also emerged as a goodwill ambassador, griot, and advocate for the musical legacy of the Crescent City. No matter where he went, he carried the soul and history of the city with him. Whether he was performing the mystic psychedelia of his Night Tripper persona to rock audiences, playing solo piano at a European festival, or guesting on other artists’ sessions, Dr. John could always be counted on to provide authentic New Orleans music.   

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