Biography: Eddie Bo, international piano giant

Edwin Joseph Bocage, known to music lovers around the world as 'Eddie Bo', was born in New Orleans, raised in Algiers and the 9th Ward. Having come from a family that is legendary in the traditional jazz community (cousins Henry, Charles, and Peter, had all made important contributions playing with the finest jazz orchestras prior to World War II), after graduating from Booker T. Washington High School and spending time abroad in the Army, he returned to New Orleans to study composition and arranging at the Grunewald School of Music. It was here that Eddie Bo developed a unique style of piano playing and arranging that incorporated complex be-bop voicings, influenced by Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson. His mother and Professor Longhair, whose playing styles were similar, were major influences on Bo as well.

In a career that spanned well over five decades, Eddie Bo made more 45's than any artist had in New Orleans other than Fats Domino. He produced records for Irma Thomas, Robert Parker, Art Neville, Chris Kenner, Al "Carnival Time" Johnson and the late Johnny Adams. Bo was a prolific songwriter, having penned several timeless songs: "Check Mr. Popeye", "It Must Be Love", "I'm Wise" (made famous by Little Richard under the name "Slippin' and Slidin'") and the hit recorded by Etta James, "My Dearest Darling". He also wrote Tommy Ridgley's "In The Same Old Way" and further demonstrated genius in the realm of contemporary New Orleans funk on the highly creative works "Hook and Sling" and "Pass the Hatchet."

During the 1950's Eddie Bo led a group of stellar New Orleans sidemen around the country backing such vocalists as Ruth Brown, Joe Turner, Lloyd Price, Smiley Lewis, Earl King, the Wild Magnolia Indians, Algiers brass Band, Treme Brass Band, the late Johnny Adams and the Platters. His versatility and professionalism had a vital impact on the world of contemporary New Orleans music. As a vocalist, he was one of a kind. As a pianist, he transcended categorizing. His spirit and vitality were an inspiration to musicians all over the world.

Bo had many of his early 45's reissued on compilations and contributed to the works of many other artists, including The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and George Porter, Jr.

Throughout his career, Eddie self-produced several CDs and toured Europe in a series of stadium concerts which drew record setting audiences.

Although called a 'one man orchestra' by Jon Pareles in a New York Times review, Eddie performed with his band at private events in and outside of New Orleans and in Europe.

Here are just a few more honors bestowed upon Eddie during his career:

  • U.S. Congressional Lifetime Achievement Award in Jazz & Blues
  • NOMA (New Orleans Museum of Art) Award for Music Contribution to New Orleans
  • A Tribute to Eddie Bo 13th & 14th Annual WWOZ Piano Nights.
    A commemorative coin was minted in Bronze in honor of Eddie the first year WWOZ paid tribute to him at its annual Piano Night.
  • Making A Difference Award WDSU TV NBC Affiliate
  • Best R&B Player Big Easy Award
  • Lifetime Achievement Award South Louisiana Music Association
  • Offbeat's Best of the Beat Award Lifetime Achievement Performer
  • Featured in Part Four of the PBS documentary, River of Song
  • Eddie Bo Day in New Orleans, May 22, by former Mayor Marc Morial
  • New Orleans Magazine Contemporary Jazz All Star Honoree
  • N.O. Jazz & Heritage Foundation Award - for unwavering loyalty to the classic piano playing and the R&B traditions

Eddie Bo passed away on March 18, 2009.