THE ICON: Louis Moreau Gottschalk
THE LEGACY: Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the son of a London businessman and a Creole woman, showed piano-playing talent while he was still a child, giving his first concert in 1840 at the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans. He was sent to France to study, and his talent blossomed, not only as a pianist but also as a composer. Gottschalk started composing before he was 20, and he eventually wrote more than 300 pieces. His music, which is considered a forerunner of jazz, draws on themes Gottschalk learned from his maternal grandmother, Josephine Deynaud Brusle, and Sally, a slave who was his childhood nurse. He returned to the United States in 1853 and became a major figure in American musical life until an 1865 scandal involving his relationship with a student at a music seminary prompted him to flee to South America. During his tour there, he contracted yellow fever and died in 1869, three weeks after collapsing during a concert in which he had just played “Morte!! (She Is Dead): Lamentation.” He was just 40 — but in those four decades he had become New Orleans’ first international musical superstar.
THE ARTIST: Jeff Morgan
THE INSPIRATION: “Gottschalk was assimilating the musics of Europe, North America, South America, and the Islands into a cauldron that would eventually produce jazz in the late 1890s and early 1910s. One wonders how fellow pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton (and Scott Joplin, for that matter) would have turned out had Gottschalk not preceded him.” — C. Michael Bailey, in the essay “There Would Be No Jazz Without Louis Moreau Gottschalk” for allaboutjazz.com.