Bennie Pete, conductor who kept the beat after Katrina, dies at 45


Bennie Pete, a New Orleans tuba player who co-founded and directed the Hot 8, one of the city’s most prominent bands, and was dedicated to preserving the musical traditions of the Big Easy after Hurricane Katrina, died September 6 at a hospital there. He was 45 years old.

His wife, Lameka Segura-Pete, said the cause was complications from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease, and Covid-19.

The soul of New Orleans is rooted in music. Second-line parades march through its streets for hours, with marching bands followed by dancers holding feathered umbrellas and sipping drinks. New Orleans honors its dead with a jazz funeral that roams the city, celebrating life through a musical sacrament with the city.

Born and raised in the Upper Ninth Ward, Mr. Pete embraced this heritage. He started playing tuba at age 10 and joined a marching band in college. At 18, he helped bring together two bands, the Looney Tunes and the High Steppers, in the Hot 8.

The Hot 8 started gambling for tips on Bourbon Street and Jackson Square, in the heart of the French Quarter. They performed outside a housing project in the Central City neighborhood, where people sat with bags of crayfish and bottles of Abita beer to listen. Mr. Pete once found himself conducting a jazz funeral for a dog.

“He was a popular dog for one of the popular musicians,” he told Esquire magazine in 2014, “and they put on a big second-line parade through the streets for him. They would make a reason to. to party.

By 2000, the Hot 8 had established itself as part of a vanguard of young brass bands that defended New Orleans’ jazz and funk traditions while playing with contemporary sound. The Hot 8’s repertoire included songs from the Specials and Marvin Gaye, and the band incorporated rap and hip-hop into their style. The musicians ran the second lines on Sundays for welfare and fun clubs; crowds gathered at night to watch them play in the bars of the Treme district.

After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the preservation of New Orleans’ musical heritage became a matter of serious concern. Countless musicians have been displaced and evacuated, and long-standing jazz and blues clubs have been left in ruins. Mr. Pete and a few group mates met up in Atlanta.

Two months later, the Hot 8s banded together to conduct the first jazz funeral in New Orleans after the storm. The group performed with donated instruments and the procession members wore salvaged pieces of adornment. The parade, which paid tribute to celebrity chef Austin Leslie, began at Pampy’s Creole Kitchen in the Seventh Ward before heading to the former Chez Helene site, where a sign greeted the walkers: “We will not bow down. not. Save our soul.

As desperation gripped the city, the Hot 8 began to perform in evacuation shelters and emergency medical centers. They rode in a van, stopping to refuel until small second lines formed, before heading to another part of town. It wasn’t long before they became local heroes.

“Bennie wanted to play for these people to give them that love of New Orleans that was missing,” his wife said. “He and the group took care of spreading the culture around.”

When Spike Lee heard about the Hot 8s, he decided to feature them in his 2006 New Orleans documentary, “When the Levees Broke,” which gained them national attention. They were signed on a British label; they toured with Lauryn Hill and performed with Mos Def. They appeared on HBO’s “Treme” and recorded with gospel band the Blind Boys of Alabama.

But even though the music returned to New Orleans after the storm, the Hot 8 endured more hardship. Their snare drummer, Dinerral Shavers, was shot dead in his car in December 2006. It was just the latest in a series of tragedies for the band.

In 1996, trumpeter Jacob Johnson was shot in the head at his home. In 2004, trombonist Joseph Williams was killed during an encounter with the police. And right after Katrina, trumpeter Terrell Batiste lost his legs in a traffic accident.

Mr. Shavers’ murder particularly shocked Mr. Pete.

“I wanted to move,” he told OffBeat magazine. “I was tired of New Orleans. I felt like I would be next.

In the end, Mr. Pete decided to stay and the Hot 8 recorded an album in honor of their late comrades.

Released in 2012, “The Life & Times Of…” was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Regional Roots Music Album. The group released “Tombstone”, a sister album also based on the theme of remembrance, the following year. The Hot 8 was also featured on a 2015 compilation album, “New Orleans Brass Bands: Through the Streets of the City”, on the Smithsonian’s Folkways label.

“It all worked out,” Pete told Esquire. “Yes, we’re the Hot 8 who went through these things, but we’re still here, and that’s what we are after the storm.”

Bennie Gerald Pete Jr. was born July 10, 1976. His father was a maintenance worker in the Garden District. Her mother, Terry (Thomas) Pete, was a housewife.

As a child, Bennie attended a Baptist church in the Seventh Ward where his maternal grandfather was a pastor, and he danced in the aisles singing gospel music. He graduated from the Lycée Alcée Fortier in 1994.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Pete is survived by three sons, Brannon, Brennon and Bennie III; two daughters-in-law, La’Shae Joseph and Laila Trask; and two sisters, Yvete and Terneisha Pete.

Over the past decade, the Hot 8 has started touring regularly in Europe; in New Orleans, the group performed on the much-vaunted stages of Tipitina’s and the annual Jazz & Heritage festival.

Mr. Pete had a seizure in 2014 and was diagnosed with sarcoidosis. In 2018, he was operated on for prostate cancer. While in confinement, his health deteriorated and he lost 100 pounds. When the Hot 8s recently resumed their Sunday residency at Howlin ‘Wolf, Mr. Pete did not join them on stage.

In the days following his death, New Orleans marching bands mourned him with music. They led the second lines through Treme, Central City and the Garden District. The moving notes of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”, a hymn played to dismiss the dead, echoed through the night.


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