News Column

Lionel Ferbos

August 4, 2014


Born: July 17, 1911; Died: July 19, 2014

Lionel Ferbos, who has died aged 103, was a celebrated trumpeter and, until he finally retired last year, was believed to be the world's oldest performing jazz musician.

He was born in New Orleans and discovered his love for the trumpet early on, saving up his pocket money to buy his first instrument from a pawn shop. He went on to perform with society jazz bands on Rampart Street, a downtown area of his hometown that in the 1920s and 30s was the epicentre of the bustling black entertainment district.

He performed with Walter Pichon and Captain John Handy in the 30s, earning little more than a dollar a night. He also performed with saxophonist Harold Dejan and trumpeters Herbert Leary, Gene Ware and Sidney Desvignes, as well as blues singer Mamie Smith.

"He was very advanced and technical for his time," said Dixieland jazz musician Lars Edegran, who performed with Ferbos for decades with the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra, a group formed in the 1960s to revive the old music unearthed in the jazz archives at Tulane University. "You needed advanced music reading skills to play in the orchestra and Lionel was a very well-trained musician," Edegran said.

Although he performed almost exclusively in New Orleans, Ferbos did make eight tours of Europe with the ragtime orchestra.

He was also part of the original stage band of the off-Broadway hit One Mo' Time, though he dropped out of show in the 70s when it moved to New York as he did not want to leave New Orleans.

In the 1940s, he played on New Orleans'Lake Pontchartrain at the Happy Landing and Mama Lou's, and in the 50s worked with Harold Dejan at the Melody Inn, where he recorded with the Mighty Four.

In the 60s he played with Herbert Leary's Orchestra.

However, he did not always work full-time as a musician.

Like many musicians of his time, Ferbos had a day trade and worked for decades as a metal maker, first in his father's French Quarter workshop, then eventually taking over the family business and building his own workshop.

He was also the last living member of New Orleans' WPA band, which was formed during the Depression by labourers in the city's Works Progress Administration, a job creation scheme set up under America's Emergency Relief Act.

He had recently become too weak to hold his trumpet, but family members would occasionally hold it to his mouth so that he could blow into it.

He was pre-deceased by his wife Margarite Gilyot and son Lionel and is survived by his daughter Sylvia.

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Source: Herald, The (Scotland)

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