Bennie Pete, a New Orleans tuba player who co-founded and directed the Hot 8, one of the city’s most prominent bands, and was dedicated to preserving the musical traditions of the Big Easy after Hurricane Katrina, died September 6 at a hospital there. He was 45 years old.
His wife, Lameka Segura-Pete, said the cause was complications from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease, and Covid-19.
The soul of New Orleans is rooted in music. Second-line parades march through its streets for hours, with marching bands followed by dancers holding feathered umbrellas and sipping drinks. New Orleans honors its dead with a jazz funeral that roams the city, celebrating life through a musical sacrament with the city.
Born and raised in the Upper Ninth Ward, Mr. Pete embraced this legacy. He started playing tuba at age 10 and joined a marching band in college. At 18, he took part in bringing together two brass bands, the Looney Tunes and the High Steppers, to form the Warm 8.
The Hot 8 started gambling for tips on Bourbon Street and Jackson Square, in the heart of the French Quarter. They performed outside a housing project in the Central City neighborhood, where people sat with bags of crayfish and bottles of Abita beer to listen. Mr. Pete once found himself conducting a jazz funeral for a dog.
“He was a popular dog for one of the popular musicians,” he said. Recount Esquire magazine in 2014, “and they put on a big second-line parade through the streets for him. They would make a reason to party.
By 2000, the Hot 8 had established itself as part of a vanguard of young brass bands that defended New Orleans’ jazz and funk traditions while playing with contemporary sound. The Hot 8’s repertoire included songs from the Promotions and Marvin Gaye, and the group incorporated rap and hip-hop into their style. The musicians conducted second lines Sundays for social assistance and recreation clubs; crowds gathered at night to watch them play in the bars of the Treme district.
After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the preservation of New Orleans’ musical heritage became a matter of serious concern. Countless musicians have been displaced and evacuated, and long-standing jazz and blues clubs have been left in ruins. Mr. Pete and a few group mates met up in Atlanta.
Two months later, the Hot 8s banded together to conduct the first jazz funeral in New Orleans after the storm. The group performed with donated instruments and the procession members wore salvaged pieces of adornment. The parade, which honored celebrity chef Austin Leslie, began to Pampy’s Creole cuisine in the seventh quarter before heading to the old site of At Hélène, where a sign greeted the marchers: “We will not bow down. Save our soul.
As desperation gripped the city, the Hot 8 began to perform in evacuation shelters and emergency medical centers. They rode in a van, stopping to refuel until small second lines formed, before heading to another part of town. It wasn’t long before they become Local hero.
“Bennie wanted to play for these people to give them that love of New Orleans that was missing,” his wife said. “He and the group took care of spreading the culture around.”
When Spike Lee found out about the Hot 8s, he decided to feature them in his 2006 New Orleans documentary, “When the dikes broke. “The film got them national attention. They were signed to a UK label, toured with Lauryn Hill and performed with Mos Def. They appeared on the HBO show.”TremeAnd recorded with the gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama.
But even though the music returned to New Orleans after the storm, the Hot 8 endured more hardship. Their snare drummer, Dinerral razors, was Pull died in his car in December 2006. It was only the latest in a series of tragedies for the group.
In 1996, the trumpeter Jacob Johnson was shot in the head at his home. In 2004, the trombonist Joseph williams was killed during an encounter with the police. And right after Katrina, the trumpeter Terrell Batiste lost his legs in a traffic accident.
Mr. Shavers’ murder particularly shocked Mr. Pete.
“I wanted to move,” he said Recount OffBeat Magazine. “I was tired of New Orleans. I felt like I would be next.
In the end, he decided to stay, and the Hot 8 recorded an album in honor of their late comrades.
Released in 2012, “The life and times of …Was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Regional Roots Music Album. The group published “tomb stone», A sister album also based on the theme of remembrance, the following year. The Hot 8 was also featured on a 2015 compilation album, “New Orleans Brass Bands: Through the City StreetsOn the Smithsonian’s Folkways label.
“It all worked out,” Pete told Esquire. “Yes, we’re the Hot 8 who went through these things, but we’re still here, and that’s what we are after the storm.”
Bennie Gerald Pete Jr. was born July 10, 1976. His father was a maintenance worker in the Garden District. Her mother, Terry (Thomas) Pete, was a housewife.
As a child, Bennie attended a Baptist church in the Seventh Ward, where his maternal grandfather was a pastor, and he danced in the aisles singing gospel music. He graduated from Lycée Alcée Fortier In 1994.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Pete is survived by three sons, Brannon, Brennon and Bennie III; two daughters-in-law, La’Shae Joseph and Laila Trask; and two sisters, Yvete and Terneisha Pete.
Mr. Pete suffered a epileptic crisis in 2014 and was diagnosed with sarcoidosis. In 2018, he was operated on for prostate cancer. While in confinement, his health deteriorated and he lost 100 pounds. When the Hot 8 recently resumed their Sunday residency in Howling wolf, Mr. Pete did not join them on stage.
In the days following his death, New Orleans marching bands mourned him with music. They led the second lines through Treme, Central City and the Garden District. The moving notes of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”, a hymn played to dismiss the dead, echoed through the night.