Remembering legendary musician Pete Fountain

Remembering legendary musician Pete Fountain
Pete Fountain plays his clarinet on a radio show in the cowboy band. (Source: NOLA.com)
Pete Fountain leads his Half-Fast Walking Club down St. Charles Street. (Source: NOLA.com)
Pete Fountain leads his Half-Fast Walking Club down St. Charles Street. (Source: NOLA.com)

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - For 60 years, Pete Fountain's music was known as the sound of New Orleans. He died Saturday morning at the age of 86 from heart failure and the Internet mourned.

#PeteFountain was trending on Facebook and Twitter before noon on Saturday, shortly after the news broke that he had passed.

The legendary musician is being remembered for being an expert jazz clarinetist, with many fans noting how he inspired them, as well as generations of clarinet players and jazz musicians.

However, New Orleans wasn't the only home of the musical legend. Up until Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Fountain called the Mississippi Gulf Coast home. In an interview with WLOX's David Elliot years ago, Fountain said his Bay St. Louis home was his retreat.

"I spend maybe three days a week here," said Fountain. "I wish I could spend seven really, but I have to go back and go to work."

Although Fountain was born in New Orleans, he recalled spending summer at his grandparent's home in Biloxi, where he planted Mississippi roots that would last throughout most of his lifetime.

"Every summer since maybe I was six or seven, if I got off on school that morning or that afternoon, you know, a half day... by 3 o'clock, we were heading to Biloxi," recalled Fountain. "They would drop me off and I'd spend June, July and August at my grandmother's house in North Biloxi or D'Iberville. Race Track Road as it was known. And I'd spend maybe three months there and it was fantastic. It was a big thing in my growing up with my cousins over there because I had more cousins in Biloxi than in New Orleans."

Fountain attributed much of the time he spent in Mississippi as a child to his success as an entertainer.

"Being with the family over there was fantastic. I used to bring my clarinet over there and play on my grandmother's porch," he said. "And it goes back to that, and then later on in years when I was in my teens, I used to catch the bus in New Orleans (to Biloxi) and play at some of the saloons on the beach.... One place in Back Bay was called Monte Carlo, which really, really was a saloon and I was maybe 14 years old playing there and having a good time."

During those teenage gigs, Fountain recalled learning from other musicians who were established in the Magnolia State.

"A lot of good musicians came out of Biloxi," he said. "And I was happy enough to be along when they were coming. Well, they were older than me but they taught me a little."

Fountain first picked up a clarinet after a family doctor suggested it would help him with his weak lungs, a diagnosis he received as a young boy. Later, Fountain would talk about the clarinet as his lifeline.

"My safest place is on the stage with the clarinet in my mouth. It's just like a pacifier, and I'm born. I can't remember not playing the clarinet and I can't remember not being married, so which is two good things."

Fountain often talked about his wife Beverly, attributing the success of their 64-year marriage to him being on the road much of the time.

"My biggest help was Beverly, my wife. She stayed home, she raised the kids. I went out and scooped up the money whenever I could," he said. "But I think that saved our marriage....I think she has the right to heaven because she's put up with me....a musician and my night life.... Thank goodness for her. She's a wonderful lady."

Throughout his career, Fountain recorded 50 albums and played on 44 more. He was invited multiple times to play in front of various presidents, as well as in front of a visiting pope. Additionally, the musician also owned a New Orleans nightclub at one time and was the owner of the old Buena Vista hotel in Bay St. Louis for a short period of time.

He made numerous television appearances throughout his career, including the one below in 1979 when he appeared on The Johnny Carson Show.

He is survived by his wife, three children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

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