#4. I met Allen Toussaint (New Orleans, 2011)
Allen Toussaint was one of the Earth’s few geniuses: a musician, songwriter, composer, arranger, producer, who not only brought Fats Domino to the world and gave New Orleans its first number-one hit song (Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother in Law”), but wrote and recorded almost every famous song that came out of the city in the 60s, 70s, and beyond. Toussaint was also soft-spoken, kind and humble. He dressed like a dandy in colorful suits and floral prints shirts, usually with a flower in his lapel (he could pull off the socks and sandals look like no one else). He could often be seen driving around town in either his gold Rolls Royce with the license plate “PIANO” or his blue Mercedes with its “SONGS” plate. An angelic figure in New Orleans, his death in 2015 was a knife in the city’s heart, and a great loss for the world.
I never got to shake his bejeweled hand, but one night I was at an art opening in a small gallery, sitting with my then two-year-old daughter on my knee. I’d noticed Toussaint was in the room with us — everyone noticed, felt his holy presence — and I was thinking of some way to finally go say hello to the maestro.
Watching him slowly check out each painting and photo on the walls, I never did conceive a good pickup line but, as he finally began heading toward the gallery’s front door, he walked right in front of my daughter and I — and when he saw her, he stopped.
Mr. Toussaint looked down and studied my baby girl as thoughtfully as he had the paintings and photos. A little shook, I wasn’t able to speak, couldn’t manage to say hello. I felt like we were being blessed. Toussaint finally looked up at me and smiled, then kept it moving out the door. My heart it did flutter.
But this anecdote gets better.
Exactly one month later, I happened to bring my daughter back to that same art show’s closing night event. And Allen Toussaint was there again! And the same exact sequence of events played out a second time, exactly as it had before: After Allen Toussaint was done checking out the art and elegantly crossed the room to leave for the night, he walked again in front of my daughter and I — and when he saw her, he stopped. Again, he studied her for a pregnant moment. Again, he looked up and smiled up at me.
Except this time he quietly said to me, “I thought that was a piece of art…” then kept it moving out the door.
Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.