Dave Bartholomew, born in 1920, was raised in New Orleans with music. He found his instrument in the trumpet and his teacher in Peter Davis, who also taught Louis Armstrong. His first gig was as a teen playing with Fats Pinchon’s riverboat band. In 1942, he got his dream job as a member of Jimmie Lunceford’s band. Six weeks into their tour, he received his draft notice.
Bartholomew played in the 196th Army Band and learned how to write music from a fellow soldier. Returning to New Orleans, he formed his own wildly popular band, Dave Bartholomew and the Dew Droppers (named for the Dew Drop Inn).
Bartholomew developed his own sound, which featured a variety horn riffs, and in 1949 he recorded his first hit, “Country Boy.” He soon met Lew Chudd, owner of Imperial Records, and introduced him to Fats Domino. Chudd signed them both, with Bartholomew as Domino’s co-writer, producer and collaborator. Their first hit, “Fat Man,” has been cited by some as the first rock-n-roll song.
“Walking to New Orleans” was written for Domino by Bobby Charles of Lafayette. Domino changed a few lyrics and Bartholomew created an orchestration for it. Bartholomew later added a string section from the New Orleans Symphony, a very unusual and risky addition for early rock-n-roll. It worked: the song reached No. 6 on the pop charts and No. 2 on the R&B charts, selling over 2 million copies.
Over the next 10 years, the Domino-Bartholomew collaboration produced 40 singles that hit the Top 40 R&B charts, seven of which hit No. 1. As the house bandleader at Cosimo Matassa’s studio, Bartholomew also wrote, arranged and produced many national hits for other artists during that time.
Bartholomew was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a nonperformer in 1991, citing his hundreds of songwriting credits. He is also in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. In 2015, the New Orleans City Council declared August 19 as Dave Bartholomew Day.