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Photo: Michael P. Smith, Historic New Orleans Collection

Bo Pulled Shorty on Stage

He could still move, all those years later.

Bo Diddley, a little softer in the gut, a crowd of thousands swelling before him, bent his left leg in time with the beat. Boom. Boom. Boom. A once-revolutionary convulsion of muscles and restless feet. It was all still there, slightly tempered with age.

May 4, 1990. The annual New Orleans Jazz Fest. He was 61.

It had been forever since Bo – part of that Chuck Berry and Little Richard holy trinity – helped morph blues into rock and roll with a tight, syncopated lick. The “Diddley Beat.” Buddy Holly ripped him off. The Rolling Stones, too. And Elvis – don’t start with Elvis.

On this day, Bo ruled the Fair Grounds stage. It’s speakers amplified the foundation of rock and roll.

He wore his felt hat with a big medallion that caught the setting sun. A turbo 5-speed guitar in hand. Glasses, amber-tinted and oversized. A go-tee flecked with gray. Three decades of driving rhythm and unbridled energy sweat through his pores.

In the crowd, a four-year-old called Trombone Shorty, holding a trombone so much bigger than him it made him lean to one side, was starting a legend of his own.

Trombone Shorty (born Troy Andrews) had music in his blood. His grandfather was R&B’s Jessie Hill (Alexa play “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” on Spotify). His older brother is trumpeter James Andrews.

Shorty was already a local prodigy. He marched through the streets of Tremé with musicians twice his height and ten times his age regularly.

Today, he played in a parade with his brother by his side. James’ fingers two-stepped the keys. Shorty’s moved the slides, as far as he could at least.

Revelers danced and waved handkerchiefs. “Where y’at? Where y’at?” A chant rang out. On the sidelines, people danced history through the Calinda, the Bamboula.

And then someone, in the celebratory chaos Jazz Fest inspires, lifted Shorty up, trombone and all. Hundreds of hands passed him overhead and towards Bo until he arrived, shell-shocked, on stage.

Bo hunched over, looked Shorty dead in the eye, and said,

“Blow. Blow the horn.”

Photo: Cheryl Gerber

The passing years have taken Bo with them, but Trombone Shorty plays on.

He tours the globe, makes records, but always comes home. You can find him playing in town, often with his band Orleans Avenue in tow. The Trombone Shorty Academy teaches local high school students jazz, brass, and R&B.

And he, in a Hollywood ending, now annually closes out Jazz Fest’s biggest stage on its final day.

Visit New Orleans and start your story with #OneTimeInNOLA.

Jenny is a writer of culture both high and low. Her work has appeared in V Magazine, Lenny Letter, and TIME, to name a few. She first fell in love with New Orleans over buttermilk biscuits and strawberry preserves. She’s been a NOLA regular ever since.

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