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Preservation Hall's John Brunious Dead at 67

Posted: Feb 14, 2008

Trumpeter John Brunious, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's leader and senior member, died Tuesday, February 12, 2008 in Orlando, Fla., after suffering an apparent heart attack. He was 67.

Brunious joined Preservation Hall around 1987, after substituting for longtime trumpeter Percy Humphrey. With his shock of white hair and the traditional white shirt and black pants of old-school New Orleans jazz bands, Mr. Brunious tutored rapt tourists on jazz funerals, second-lines and dirges before launching into "Just a Closer Walk With Thee."

Brunious' trumpet and voice are featured on many latter day Preservation Hall recordings. He sings lead on "Last Chance to Dance," the final song on the CD that accompanied the Hall's 2007 limited edition box set, "Made In New Orleans."

Brunious endured the wrath of Hurricane Katrina and the botched response to its aftermath. As the storm approached, he hunkered down in his first-floor apartment on Elysian Fields Avenue in Gentilly. After the levees broke, he plunged into the rising floodwaters to save, ironically enough, his boat. He hoped to secure the boat and its new motor before they floated away.

As the water reached his 8-foot ceiling, Brunious escaped to a second floor apartment. Eventually, a passing boat rescued him. He joined thousands of storm victims at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

For five days, he survived on minimal food and water, and slept outside on a chair. Finally, officials put him on a bus bound for Conway, Ark.

Brunious was located via the Red Cross.

Mr. Brunious was unable to perform at Preservation Hall's first post-Katrina concert in New York because of a severe cough, another byproduct of polluted floodwaters. But on Sept. 20, 2005, he joined the band at Radio City Music Hall for a triumphant set at the "Big Apple to the Big Easy" benefit.

Brunious lost all six of his trumpets in his flooded apartment. After a show in New Hampshire, a music teacher gave him a used trumpet. In May 2006, the Tipitina's Foundation presented Mr. Brunious with a new silver-plated Conn trumpet.

He settled in Orlando with his wife and stepdaughter, yet continued to tour with Preservation Hall. Dental work forced him to sit out the band's national anthem performance prior to the BCS Championship Game in January.

A memorial service for Mr. Brunious is planned for Feb. 23 at Preservation
Hall, to be followed by a second-line.

-Keith Spera

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