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Composer Wardell Quezergue dies

NEW ORLEANS -- Composer, arranger, bandleader, producer and teacher Wardell Quezergue, who arranged "Chapel of Love" for the Dixie Cups and was dubbed the "Creole Beethoven" by Allen Toussaint, has died. He was 81.

He died Tuesday of congestive heart failure, said son Brian Quezergue.

"What a mark he made. In fact, what several marks he made," Toussaint said Wednesday. "He was just a magnificent man in every way. He was a superb musician and bandleader. He always inspired the best out of people who were playing with him."

Hits arranged by Quezergue include "Iko Iko" for the Dixie Cups, "Big Chief" for Professor Longhair, "Mr. Big Stuff" for Jean Knight and "Groove Me" for King Floyd -- the last two recorded the same day in 1961 at Quezergue's Malaco Records in Jackson, Miss.

He also worked with artists as diverse as B.B. King, The Meters, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, and the Dameans -- a quintet of New Orleans priests whose folky liturgical songs were popular after the Vatican decided the Mass should be in local languages rather than Latin.

He co-wrote "It Ain't My Fault," a New Orleans brass band standard, and had recently accepted a settlement from Tuff City Records, which reissued the song, which was sampled by pop star Mariah Carey in "Did I Do That" and by rapper Silkk the Shocker.

Quezergue lost his house and his collection of musical scores to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and his sight to diabetes in about 2003.

"The genius of Wardell was all the arrangements were always in his mind. Now he needed someone to transcribe it onto paper," said Gary Ault, who was one of the Dameans and narrator for Quezergue's most recent composition, a musical setting of the Passion. The transcriber was usually Brian Quezergue, one of Quezergue's five sons and eight daughters.

Quezergue's wife of 60 years, Yoshi Tamaki Quezergue, died in May.

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