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Black History Month

History-makers of Southeast Louisiana

Professor Longhair

Publicity photo by Michael P. Smith, 1978, Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

Professor Longhair or “Fess” (1918 - 1980)

He is remembered as a Rock & Roll pioneer and the patriarch of New Orleans rhythm & blues piano. Henry Roeland “Roy” Byrd was born in Bogalusa in 1918. As a teenager, he danced on Bourbon Street for tips. Then, he found an abandoned piano that was a missing a few keys. He took it home and taught himself to play. In his 20s, he was hired at a club to play while the regular band was on break. He and his band had long hair and were quickly named “Professor Longhair and the Four Hairs.” Ultimately, the name “Fess” stuck.

Professor Longhair is remembered for his unique style of playing that involved dropping or adding beats at will. He incorporated Afro-Caribbean influences, combining elements of rock, R&B, funk, and reggae. In his own way, Fess invented a new style of music unique to New Orleans.

In 1977, a group of fans and promoters in New Orleans helped Byrd buy an old warehouse to convert into a nightclub. He named it Tipitina's, after one of his songs. Today, Tipitina's is one of the premier music clubs. Professor Longhair’s portrait is displayed proudly above the stage.


For more on Professor Longhair, check out the following links:


Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1992


Sandmel, Ben "Professor Longhair" Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 27 Mar 2013. 

(LISTEN) Fess recorded this version of "Big Chief" in 1979.

The books listed below are available for you at Sims Memorial Library.