Danny Barker (1909-1994), banjoist and guitarist, and vocalist Louise “Blue Lu” Barker (1913-1998) are a beloved couple in New Orleans Jazz history. Both Danny and Blu Lu began performing at a very early age; Danny playing with spasm bands on the streets of New Orleans while Blu Lu was always singing and dancing.
They became an unstoppable force when they married in 1930 when Blu Lu was only 16 years old, then migrating to New York where they quickly made a name for themselves. Few people have performed with such a wide variety of accomplished musicians, but Danny was gifted enough to accompany Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie, just to name a few persons.
Yet it was the collaboration between Danny’s music and Blu Lu’s almost childlike voice that led to such famous recordings as “Don’t You Feel My Leg” deemed so controversial at the time that they were banned from the radio, but not before they could become instant hits.
In 1965, the Barkers returned to New Orleans where they would remain for the rest of their days. Danny continued performing and also worked as the Curator of the New Orleans Jazz Museum where his gifts as a historian and storyteller became known to a wide audience. He authored A Life in Jazz and Bourbon Street Black as well as numerous other writings that were unfortunately never published.
Perhaps Danny’s most enduring legacy was his championing of the Brass Band tradition by forming the Fairview Baptist Church Brass Band. His dedication kept what many believed to be dying tradition alive, and groomed some of New Orleans most successful brass band musicians.
Although they were absent from New Orleans for over 30 years, few musicians have left such a strong imprint on the city. This stands as a tribute not only to their talent, humor, and goodness; but most importantly their enduring love for the Crescent City.