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Too Much Huey

Adam Bernstein

I've often heard from obit fans something with which I completely agree: That it's not the predictable major obits that make the page exciting, but rather the utterly fascinating second or third-rung characters that provide fun and texture. You don't need to report on wastrels and third-tier actresses, but what a loss if you didn't anyway.

But there comes a limit even for me. I was startled how much space the New York Times gave to a journeyman jazz and pop guitarist named Huey Long, who died June 10 in Houston at 105. He spent a mere nine months -- nine months! -- with the Ink Spots, a popular vocal group. While he cut a few records with the group, the songs were not well-known. And lastly, he's the guitarist in a singing group. The Ink Spots was not exactly well-known for its innovative guitar work.

Worst of all, Long worked with famous people (Lil Armstrong, Texas Guinan, Fletcher Henderson, "Lockjaw" Davis) but had next to nothing compelling to say about them. I am a huge jazz fan and will happily devote space to second and third-tier musicians whose lives are fascinating, but I gave a big old pass to Long. This is not a knock against the Times writer, William Grimes, who is one of the great talents at the paper and whose food reviews were always worth savoring.

I checked with a person I know who runs one of the best jazz radio shows in the country and this person confirmed my suspicions that Long was not one of the great names of jazz.

"However," this person added, "I can tell you that if some clarinetist just died at 103 who had been on Duke Ellington's payroll in 1931 for three weeks, people would be talking about the 'last surviving member' of Duke's Cotton Club band. In the same context, what does it really matter to have been two months old when you were saved from the Titanic? It's interesting as an historical footnote, but you and I would be more interested in the last person who had conscious memory of that night."

By Adam Bernstein |  June 16, 2009; 5:00 AM ET  | Category:  Adam Bernstein
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Alternatively you could be irrelevant and super late - the Independent just got around to running Millvina Dean, last known Titanic survivor.

Posted by: smiller6 | June 16, 2009 12:10 PM

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