Born: March 25, 1897 Primary Instrument: Piano
Sweet Emma Barrett - New Orleans Pianist ( 1897 - 1983)
‘Sweet Emma’ was pianist and vocalist Emma Barrett, who had sung in the bars, clubs and saltier venues of New Orleans since 1910, when she was 12.
'Sweet Emma' Barrett played constantly, and remained one of New Orleans' favorite entertainers all her life. She was one of the most unforgettable musicians who ever played New Orleans Jazz.
By 1923, pianist and singer Emma Barrett was playing with Papa Celestin and Bebe Ridgley's Original Tuxedo Orchestra. Emma remained with Ridgley until 1936, a period in which she also performed under such well-known leaders as John Robichaux, A.J. Piron, and Sidney Desvigne. In the '50s she worked with Percy Humphrey and Israel Gorman and also led her own band of New Orleans veterans, sometimes touring as Sweet Emma and the Bells.
In the '60s she was the pianist with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. She suffered periods of ill-health but even a stroke did not stop her. She was known as the Bell Gal in her younger days because of her habit of wearing bells on her garters. For all her eccentricities, however, Barrett helped perpetuate the music of her home town with unending enthusiasm.
Though there is an obscure live set from Mardi Gras in 1960, Sweet Emma did not record until her 1961 Riverside sessions, with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Barrett led other sessions for GHB (1963-‘64), Preservation Hall, Nobility, and a 1978 album for Smoky Mary.
She lived up to her reputation, belting out the one-liners, double entendres, and innuendo with gusto, then turning poignant or bemused when necessary.
Sweet Emma Barrett continued to be asked for long after her passing in 1983.