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He is rock and roll: Hall of Famer & Edgard native Dave Bartholomew dies at 100

EDGARD — Those who knew legendary New Orleans trumpet player, songwriter and producer Dave Bartholomew say he was a man of discipline, unfailing morals and love for his Edgard roots.

Bartholomew, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, passed away June 23 at age 100.

He was born on Christmas Eve 1918 in Edgard and went on to usher in the era of rock ‘n’ roll before it even had a name.

Bartholomew wrote many of the earliest hits within the genre and defined the New Orleans sound in his talent scouting abilities, which led to the discovery of Fats Domino and other musical icons.

Gary Watson of Edgard recalls Bartholomew performing at the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church fair, brightening summer days with his music.

“He brought his whole band, orchestra and all, and they played music,” Watson said. “That’s when I realized how great this man was. The music was beautiful. He was beautiful. One of the things I admire about him is a lot of people make it big, but Dave is one of the guys who came back and said, ‘I am not claiming New Orleans. I’m not claiming New York. I’m from Edgard, Louisiana.’”

Watson personally introduced Bartholomew as a special guest at an education, employment and empowerment festival organized by the West St. John Community Action organization in 2014.

“He was very happy to be back in his hometown of Edgard,” Watson said. “Where West St. John is, that’s where he was born, maybe about a half a mile from the school. He pointed his finger toward the railroad track and said, this is where I was born and raised.”

Bartholomew’s son, Don Bartholomew, said his father never lost his connection to St. John the Baptist Parish, where a few of his relatives still reside.

“He was proud of Edgard,” Don said. “He was proud of where he was from, and he never shied away from it. He always let it be known that he was a country boy.”

“Country Boy” was one of the songs Bartholomew performed.

However, most of his contributions to the music world were in his non-performing roles. He wrote more than 40 hits for Imperial Records in the 1950s alone.

Bartholomew learned to play the tuba in his youth and performed in bands with much older musicians. He moved to New Orleans as an adolescent and played trumpet on a Mississippi riverboat, eventually becoming leader of Fats Pinchon’s band.

Bartholomew’s recording career traces back to 1939, while his popularity skyrocketed after the 1949 mega-hit “The Fat Man.”

Hailed as the first rock ‘n’ roll record and performed by Fats Domino, the song was penned by Bartholomew. The partnership between Bartholomew and Domino lasted decades and culminated in dozens of hits.

Despite popular belief, the two never wrote songs together, according to Don.

“All those songs were written by my daddy,” Don said. “He didn’t ‘help create’ rock ‘n’ roll. He is rock ‘n’ roll. He was doing it 10 years before they gave a name to it.”

Stella Edwards and Dave Bartholomew posed together at West St. John High School during a 2014 celebration.

Bartholomew wrote and produced recordings for several other artists, including Smiley Lewis (“I Hear You Knocking” and “One Night”) and Shirley and Lee (“Let the Good Times Roll”).

He also wrote songs for the Spiders, Chris Kenner, Earl King, Tommy Ridgley, Robert Parker, T-Bone Walker, Roy Brown and Frankie Ford.

Big-time performers went on to record many of Bartholomew’s songs. “Ain’t That a Shame” was recorded by Pat Boone, and “I Hear You Knocking” went to Gale Storm and Dave Edmundsin. Meanwhile, Ricky Nelson found a hit in Bartholomew’s song “I’m Walkin’,” and Elvis Presley recorded both “One Night” and “Witchcraft.”

Don said his father was a humble person, never affected by his fame.

In 2014, Parish President Natalie Robottom honored Dave Bartholomew with a proclamation.

“He’s a tremendous musician and songwriter, but times that one thousand in fatherhood,” Don said. “He was a very disciplined man. He let us know when it was time to have fun and time to take care of business. There was no in between. Either it’s right or its wrong.”

Though he seemed tough around the edges, Bartholomew was incredibly loving and wanted to better those around him by passing on his wisdom, according to Don.

“He was that figure of the family that pretty much had the root of the tree, and everybody else followed from him,” Don said. “He was the core of the family.”

Bartholomew will be laid to rest Monday, July 8, with a “Blue Monday” funeral at St. Gabriel the Archangel Church at 4700 Pineda Street in New Orleans.

A visitation that will be open to the public will begin at 9 a.m. until 11:45 a.m. A Mass will follow at noon and will also be open to the public. A private burial will follow.

In a statement released Thursday, the Bartholomew family gave thanks for the outpouring of support shown by friends, family and fans worldwide.–