Eric Paulsen / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS - His name was Henry Roeland Byrd, but the world knows him as Professor Longhair. The world also knows the iconic New Orleans music club which shares its name with one of Longhair’s classic songs – “Tipitina.” So it comes as no surprise that the Tipitina’s Foundation has undertaken the job of renovating the only home Professor Longhair ever owned.
Earlier this year, the foundation began work, along with the non-profit Project Homecoming and the United Way of Southeast Louisiana, to restore the home in the 1700 block of Terpsichore St. in Central City.
“You can't separate the two – there would be no Tipitina’s without Professor Longhair, so it was absolutely something we had to do, almost a mandate,” said Mary Von Kurnatowski of the Tipitina’s Foundation.
There have been other famous New Orleans musicians who homes were not preserved, so bringing Professor Longhair’s home back to life helps keep his legacy alive.
Steve Armbruster was one of the founders of Tipitina's and called Professor Longhair, who died in 1980, a friend.
“He was thrilled to finally have a house that he owned. He had rented his whole life and he moved into this house a year before he died and he loved it and he was proud of it,” Armbruster said.
Project Homecoming is doing most of the work on this house in a partnership with the City of New Orleans - something Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration says is not just saving New Orleans music history but is also good business.
“It’s an opportunity not only to help a musician’s family but also to place an investment in a neighborhood that we think is on the verge of coming back,” said Brian Lawlor, with the City of New Orleans office of Housing Policy & Community Development.
And there has been change in this neighborhood since work began on the Professor Longhair house earlier this year. Other properties have been restored in the neighborhood or are in the process of being renovated. This property will take a bit longer than most since it's a massive undertaking. In fact, it's one of the bigger jobs Project Homecoming has done. It’s also one that's especially time consuming since it involves preserving history.
“The volunteers who have been working on this house have found pieces, memorabilia, a piece of a piano stool or the kind of things we typically find when we’re gutting a house,” said Kevin Krejci with Project Homecoming. “But it’s a lot more meaningful when we find something like that in a house like this.”
No one knows that more than Longhair’s daughter, who will live in the home with her son.
“It’s everybody’s house, because Professor Longhair and his music belongs to everybody,” said Pat Byrd.
Professor Longhair may be gone, but his legacy lives on in his music, at Tipitina's and now at his New Orleans home.
Crews hope to have the work completed by the end of the year.