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A French Quarter Story

A family from Arkansas was vacationing in the French Quarter one week during the 1960s. Their son was an aspiring musician who dabbled on the saxophone. The family had hoped to go to Al Hirt’s club to see the trumpet master perform. There was a problem: The son was under 21 and because booze was served at the nightclub he could not be legally admitted. For that they had come all the way from Arkansas.

We take a close look at the Vieux Carré in this issue, not just as a place for visitors to prowl but also as a place for locals to return. The French Quarter Festival was created after street repairs in preparation for the 1984 World’s Fair chopped up the neighborhood. As an appeasement, then-Mayor Dutch Morial told the French Quarter’s business people to be patient and, after the fair, his office would help create an event to draw locals back. The festival has grown and flourished since then, plus it brings in tourists who, like the family from Arkansas, want to hear the music.
When the family approached the box office, they pleaded for their teenage son to be allowed in – after all, he wouldn’t be drinking, just listening to the music. Then one of the club’s workers pointed outside to a man reading a newspaper in an automobile parked nearby. It was Al Hirt. They would have to get his permission. So this humble family approached Hirt, made their case and he agreed. Walking the edge of the law, the son would be allowed in with the family.

Hirt’s career had peaked, though he was still a major name in music. He would spend the rest of his years performing at nightclubs. The family returned to Arkansas but would years later receive some notoriety. The son never did become a professional musician; instead his career took another path. In his book, My Life, Bill Clinton would one day tell about his youthful encounter with Al Hirt, and the French Quarter would forever be enriched with yet another tale.

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