Herb Alpert, Allen Toussaint Receive National Medals of Arts
On July 10, President Obama awarded the 2012 National Medal of Arts to trumpeter Herb Alpert and pianist Allen Toussaint. Alpert was cited for his varied contributions to music and the fine arts, and Toussaint was acknowledged for his contributions as a composer, producer and performer. The two musicians were among 12 National Medal of Arts recipients who were honored in the East Room of the White House by the President and First Lady.
The annual National Medal of Arts awards were established by Congress in 1984 to honor artists and patrons of the arts. It is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government. The National Council of the Arts and the Arts Endowment’s advisory council recommends individuals and organizations to the president.
“My dreams of being a professional artist never included the Medal of Arts Award,” said Alpert. “I am deeply touched.”
Alpert is a music icon, accomplished sculptor and painter, and through his creativity and inspiration, he has enriched America’s cultural life. The musician behind the Tijuana Brass phenomenon and co-founder of A&M Records, which launched several storied careers, Alpert is also a philanthropist who shares the power of arts education with young people across our country.
As a multi-disciplinary artist, Alpert has never stopped being a musician. He has sold more than 72 million albums over the course of his career. An eight-time Grammy winner, Alpert is preparing to release his 34th studio album, Steppin’ Out (Almo Sounds), and he will perform with his wife, singer Lani Hall, at the Hollywood Bowl on July 17. His art exhibition In·ter·course is currently at the Robert Berman Gallery, Bergamot Station, in Santa Monica, Calif.
Alpert and Hall are mutually involved in the work of The Herb Alpert Foundation, which was formed in the early 1980s to support music and arts education, jazz studies and organizations that work toward creating a compassionate and empathetic society. It has given out more than $125 million in grants.
As an all-around musical eminence who emerged in New Orleans in the late 1950s and early ’60s, Toussaint’s greatest contribution was in not allowing the city’s old-school r&b traditions to die out while keeping pace with developments in the rapidly evolving worlds of soul and funk. He brought the New Orleans “carnival” sound to the national stage.
Toussaint came into his own as a studio auteur for the Minit and Instant labels from 1960–’63. He produced, arranged and sometimes wrote a string of classic sides for such New Orleans r&b artists as Lee Dorsey, Jessie Hill, Ernie K-Doe and Chris Kenner. After a stint in the Army from 1963–’65, Toussaint picked up where he left off, forming Sansu, a production company, with partner Marshall Sehorn. A string of soul/r&b singles from singer Lee Dorsey followed in 1965–’66, including “Ride Your Pony,” “Working In The Coal Mine” and “Holy Cow.”
Toussaint groomed the top-drawer New Orleans quartet the Meters, which served as the Sansu house band while releasing funky instrumentals under their own name. In 1973, Toussaint and Sehorn built their own Sea-Saint studio, which attracted local musicians like Dr. John and the Neville Brothers and other established stars. Labelle recorded its 1975 chart-topper “Lady Marmalade” at Sea-Saint with Toussaint. Various Toussaint-penned songs (published under his own name and the pseudonym Naomi Neville) have been covered by Alpert, the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, Bonnie Raitt, Boz Scaggs, Little Feat, Al Hirt and Glen Campbell.
Toussaint has recorded under his own name as well. His solo discography includes the instrumental album The Wild Sound Of New Orleans (RCA), released in 1958. Two of his early instrumentals later became standards for other artists: “Java,” a 1964 hit for Hirt, and “Whipped Cream,” which served as the title track of the third album by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in 1965. Toussaint cut a trio of contemporary r&b albums for Warner Bros. in the 1970s.
Toussaint’s most recent recordings include the Grammy-nominated 2006 pop/vocal album The River In Reverse (Verve Forecast), a collaboration with Elvis Costello, and the 2009 album The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch), for which Toussaint assembled a band of New Orleans all-stars and other highly regarded jazz players.
On Sept. 24, Rounder will release Songbook, featuring performances of 25 of Toussaint’s songs captured on CD and DVD. The album and accompanying DVD were recorded over two nights in the fall of 2009 at the venerable New York City nightspot Joe’s Pub.
Toussaint’s work has been sampled by numerous hip-hop artists, and he has appeared nationally on TV and radio, notably in the HBO series “Treme.”
For a complete list of the 2012 National Medal of Arts awardees, click here.