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Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans
By Ben Sandmel
Historic New Orleans Collection
Any New Orleanian old enough to remember the past fi fty-plus years surely knows who Ernie K-Doe was and the role he played throughout most of his adult life. If nothing else, he would be remembered for his number 1 hit record from 1961, “Mother in Law.” However, those who followed the K-Doe saga over the years since then know there was much more to him than just being a “one-hit wonder.” Among the legendary characters of New Orleans – and there have been many – Ernie K-Doe (1936- 2001), the self-coronated “Emperor of the Universe,” ranks high up there near the top.
In this book, which was more than ten years in the making, author Ben Sandmel did as thorough a job as anyone could possibly have done under the circumstances. Sandmel, a high-profi le folklorist and co-author of a book on zydeco, didn’t get into collecting material for the book until late in K-Doe’s life and so there are very few fi rsthand exchanges between author and subject. Nonetheless, Sandmel managed to compose a compelling narrative using primarily secondhand sources.
The book is literally the product of scores of interviews Sandmel conducted with people who were close to K-Doe, including fellow musicians, family members, friends and key individuals with anecdotes to impart. Especially his widow, “Miss Antoinette” K-Doe who devoted the last eight years of her life to keeping the memory of her colorful husband in the public eye. Plus there are transcript excerpts from K-Doe’s radio shows over WWOZ in the 1980s that confi rm the eccentric and egocentric side to a character who, in actuality, possessed more depth and acquired knowledge and wisdom than his convoluted dialect would seem to indicate.
Being little known outside the New Orleans area, this is likely to be the only book that will ever be written on Ernie K-Doe. For that reason especially, it was important for Sandmel to get in as much detail as he could, and he does. The book is tastefully augmented with dozens of photographs, both black and white and color, from some of New Orleans’ top photogs. At nearly 250 text pages, the book is a quick and easy read, and a fascinating one. A story that defi nitely needed to be told and now, at last, it is. – Dean M. Shapiro