Blues clubs and the spill

June 29, 2010

Tommy Singleton at Young at Heart Club

Ben Sandmel, one of our humanities consultants, has written an article for Politics Daily that links the BP oil spill to the blues clubs of New Orleans. Ben writes about Tommy Singleton, an R&B singer whose name has appeared often in his blog. Sandmel writes:

At first glance, Louisiana’s oil-fouled coast may seem worlds away from the small, neighborhood blues bars of New Orleans’ African-American community. But as toxic tendrils of crude reach ever farther inland, the connections become increasingly apparent. For nearly half a century, Tommy Singleton, 67, has been expertly singing blues, soul and R&B in little joints around New Orleans. While Singleton sounds every bit as good as many big-name artists, he has yet to enjoy a big-name career.

Accordingly, Singleton must supplement his income with what musicians call a “day gig.” For the past dozen years, that day gig was at P&J Oysters, where Singleton drove a truck and worked in the processing room, preparing the mollusks for market. “I would go to towns like Grand Isle, Pointe a la Hache, Port Sulphur, and pick up the oysters at the dock. Then I’d bring them to the French Quarter and we’d wash, sort and pack them.”

But the continued existence of P&J, which has been in business since 1876, is now threatened by the BP spill. Oil has tainted many of Louisiana’s best oyster beds, and at present there’s little product left for the company to sell. With grim prospects and limited income as the leak keeps gushing, P&J has been forced to lay off many employees, Singleton included.

“It’s terrible,” Singleton said between sets at Margaritaville, a French Quarter tourist joint owned by the singer Jimmy Buffett of  “Wasting Away In Margaritaville” fame. “It’s going to make things very difficult for a lot of people who really depend on this for a living. About 20 people were laid off. Hopefully it’s temporary. I believe that when they clean up certain areas of the gulf, then people can go back and fish for oysters. But it could take a lot of PR work to convince people to buy them again.”

What’s more, Singleton’s most regular gig, Sunday evenings at the Young at Heart Club, has come to an end. This is a poor omen for those musicians who live by the tip jar, Sandmel writes: “If the oil spill cuts deeply into New Orleans tourism, as many fear, that jar may catch fewer and fewer tips all the time.”

Click here for the full article.

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