Big Al Carson, a longtime jazz and blues singer whose vocal eminence packed crowds into Bourbon Street nightclubs for decades, died on Sunday. He was 66 years old.
Carson had suffered a heart attack two weeks ago, although it was later cited as his cause of death on Sunday, according to several local news reports.
Born Alton Carson in New Orleans on October 2, 1953, Carson grew up in the Lafitte Housing Projects and went on to study at Xavier University. He started off as a tuba player for local Bourbon Street brass bands before settling on a singing career, according to Offbeat.
Carson performed at Tropical Isle and Funky Pirate several nights each week for more than two decades with his band, The Blues Masters, which also included bassist Harold Scott, guitarist Harry Sterling and drummer Rodney Rollins.
As his weight approached 500 pounds, he’d use it to pull crowds off Bourbon Street and into bars with his “495 pounds of pure New Orleans” slogan advertised on placards displayed outside the door.
Carson’s power to sway a crowd occasionally included reminding them to not smoke cigars in his presence (he disliked the smell of the smoke), which was always obliged.
The Blues Masters performed regularly at Funky Pirate until Carson took time off to recover from health issues in 2013 before returning to the stage.
Carson and The Blues Masters were also regular performers at Jazz Fest and French Quarter Festivals.
Aside from performing live, Carson recorded several albums, including three in the 1990s under the Mardi Gras Records label.
On Sunday, the Tropical Isle and Funky Pirate released a Facebook statement on his passing.
“It is with a heavy heart that we extend our warmest condolences to his wife, Corina, and family, his friends and all that knew him, appreciated him – not only for his talents, but for who he was, his strength, his kind soul, his infectious smile, his sense of humor and, of course, his music.
“We were so fortunate to have him share his brillance with us for over 25 years at the Bourton St. Honky Tonky (Funky Pirate).”
Watch Big Al Carson and The Blues Masters perform at Funky Pirate in 2011: