Kirkus Reviews QR Code
ERNIE K-DOE by Ben Sandmel Kirkus Star

ERNIE K-DOE

The R&B Emperor of New Orleans

By Ben Sandmel

Pub Date: April 11th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-917860-60-7
Publisher: The Historic New Orleans Collection

A vital, loving chronicle of the colorful life and frequently hard times of the New Orleans R&B singer and self-styled “Emperor of the Universe.”

To many, Ernie K-Doe (1936–2001) is a one-hit wonder: His evergreen oldie “Mother-in-Law” topped the pop and R&B charts in 1961. But to New Orleans journalist Sandmel (Zydeco!, 1999), the vocalist was much more, and this smart, funny and richly designed and illustrated book makes a rousing case for the musician as a quintessential Crescent City figure. Born Ernest Kador Jr. in the city’s Charity Hospital, K-Doe authored his hit single and other lively R&B tracks for local Minit Records, but a follow-up smash proved elusive. While he maintained a hometown profile as a hardworking performer in the James Brown/Joe Tex mold, K-Doe was best known for years as a DJ on New Orleans’ WWOZ. There, his lunatic manner, unique lexicon and stream-of-consciousness raps cemented his status as a NoLa institution. Megalomania, alcoholism and a propensity for professional bridge-burning left him virtually homeless by the late ’80s. However, he enjoyed a second act in the ’90s after he opened his famed Mother-in-Law Lounge with wife Antoinette, who restored him personally and professionally. The club, which often doubled as the K-Does’ living room, attracted a crowd of tourists, oddball locals, young musicians and journalists (including the New York Times’ Neil Strauss, who had a notorious set-to with the eccentric proprietors while on assignment in 2000). K-Doe’s saga didn’t end with his death: He maintained a bizarre afterlife at the Mother-in-Law and around town in the form of a life-sized sculpture created by local artist Jason Poirier. Though severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina, the lounge was restored and run by Antoinette until her death in 2009. Despite a multitude of personal faults, K-Doe emerges here as hilarious, complex and indomitable—a larger-than-life character altogether worthy of inclusion in the pantheon of his city’s oversized musical titans.

A vital, essential addition to the shelf of great books about New Orleans.