Irma Thomas reflects on Dave Bartholomew’s life and legacy

Updated: Jun. 23, 2019 at 9:28 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Dave Bartholomew passed away Sunday (June 23), leaving behind a lasting legacy, including an entire genre of music.

The 100-year-old musician and composer is credited with discovering the legendary Fats Domino, as well as playing a key role in developing New Orleans’ distinct sound and laying the foundations of rock-and-roll and R&B.

Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, said although many may not know Bartholomew’s name, they sure know his music. Thomas herself said at first, even she didn’t know many of the songs she sang in her early years -- “Blueberry Hill," “Walking to New Orleans" -- had Bartholomew’s DNA all over them.

“He goes back with Fats Domino before I even thought about being an entertainer,” Thomas said.

In fact, it was Bartholomew who helped Fats become the icon we know today, according to his Don Bartholomew.

“My dad found Fats at the Hideaway Lounge. Everybody was talking about him and how he played boogie-woogie,” Don Bartholomew said.

Though he may be best known for his creative collaborations, Thomas said Bartholomew was a talented musician who, even in his old age, would put younger trumpet players to shame. The last time the two worked together was for a spot on HBO’s “Treme.”

“And he played that trumpet and I think when we did Treme he was already in his late 80′s early 90′s," Irma recalled. “He was a very sharp man even up until his death.”

But as much as Thomas respected the professional, she said she was just as fortunate to know the man.

“[He] was a gentleman, but he had a funny side, of course," Thomas said. “Every time they would talk, he would tell my husband he had a song for me. I’m still waiting on that song.”

Though Thomas mourns the loss of a friend and a colleague, she said she’s encouraged by the musical legacy and lasting impression Bartholomew had on New Orleans music. And, even if it’s too late to know him, Thomas said she hopes the next generation will still take the time to learn more about the man and his music.

“When he’s gone they’re gonna say, ‘Coulda, shoulda, woulda," Thomas said. “No, you need to do your history, you need to learn about the industry in this city. What this city has brought to the music industry as a whole. New Orleans isn’t given credit for a lot of things it should be given credit for, because of people like Mr. Bartholomew.”

In 1991, Bartholomew was inducted into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame. He is survived by his two sons, Don and Ron Bartholomew.

As of Sunday evening, funeral arrangements had not been announced.

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