Professor Longhair: Tipitina

Email a Friend
From and
Detail from cover of the Professor Longhair album Red Beans 'N' Rice

The New Orleans piano player Henry Roeland Byrd made a name for himself as Professor Longhair, a former street hustler turned self-taught musician who started recording in his early 30s. In 1953 Atlantic records released "Tipitina." “As a kid you heard that song seven or eight times a day,” remembers musician Irma Thomas. At first, it was a hit only in New Orleans, but it's gone on to inspire generations of musicians. It was among the music chosen during the past year by the Library of Congress for its National Recording Registry.

Allen Toussaint calls himself a disciple of Professor Longhair and says learning the song “felt like a rite of passage.” But not even Toussaint, the dean of New Orleans songwriters, knows what “Tipitina” is. Was it a place? A person? Hugh Laurie, the actor who recently recorded his own take on the song, relishes the mystery. “I thought it was better not knowing. It adds to its mystique and its power to make me laugh and cry all in one go.”

This story was produced by Ben Manilla and Devon Strolovitch for BMP Audio.

Inside the National Recording Registry, our series highlighting works in the National Recording Registry, receives production support from the Library of Congress.

Music Playlist

  1. Tipitina and Me

    Artist: Allen Toussaint
    Album: Our New Orleans
    Label: Nonesuch
  2. Tipitina [Original Single Version]

    Artist: Professor Longhair
    Album: New Orleans Piano
    Label: Atlantic
  3. Tipitina [LP Version]

    Artist: Professor Longhair
    Album: New Orleans Piano
    Label: Atlantic
  4. Go to the Mardi Gras

    Artist: Professor Longhair
    Album: 'Fess: Anthology
    Label: Rhino
  5. Tipitina

    Artist: Hugh Laurie
    Album: Let Them Talk
    Label: Warner Bros
  6. Handa Wanda

    Artist: The Wild Magnolias
    Album: The Wild Magnolias
    Label: Polygram Records