One of the principal pioneers of New Orleans rhythm & blues, his influence can be heard in Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, James Booker and Dr. John, among many others. Known for his unique mix of blues, jazz, calypso, ragtime, and zydeco, Fess (as he was known) defined and captured the essence of New Orleans in his music.
Born Henry Roeland Byrd in Bogalusa, Louisiana 1918, and raised in New Orleans, Fess started performing at an early age, often dancing down Bourbon Street for tips. In addition to piano, he learned to play guitar and drums in the early 1930s and was in and out of numerous bands. He soon found there were better ways to make money than music. He worked as a cook, then as a boxer, and eventually became a professional card player. It wasn't until the late 1940s that he returned to music.