Our third installment of NOLA History Guy December features one of the Legendary Locals of New Orleans.
NOLA History Guy December – Wendell Pierce
This book, Legendary Locals of New Orleans, is a different concept than the “Images of America books.” Arcadia asked me to pitch for the New Orleans entry in this series. I loved the idea–essentially a Who’s Who of notables from the city’s 300-year history. The folks featured in the book range from the 18th Century origins of the city to modern actors, musicians, and sports heroes.
How far back does the book go? From the Introduction:
Pierre LeMoyne left a man named Sauvolle, along with his brother, Jean Baptiste, at this encampment. Sauvolle died in 1701, leaving Jean Baptiste (who is better known by his title, Sieur d’Bienville) as temporary governor of the Louisiana colony. Bienville returned to Mobile when a replacement for Sauvolle was sent, but found himself in charge again in 1717, when John Law’s Company of the Indies took control of Louisiana. Bienville convinced the directors of the company that the crescent in the Mississippi by Bayou St. John would be a better site for a permanent settlement than Mobile, and he was authorized to go forward with the plan. He founded Nouvelle Orleans in 1718. By 1720, Bienville had transferred enough materials, men, and supplies from Mobile to truly start development of the city. He tasked an engineer, Adrien de Pauger, to develop a plan for the city. That plan became the grid of streets we now know as the Vieux Carre, the French Quarter.
Our first “Legend” for NOLA History Guy December is actor and philanthropist Wendell Pierce.
At publication time, I’m sure more people knew Pierce as “Bunk Moreland,” from David Simon’s TV series, “The Wire.” I titled his caption “Antoine,” however, because Bunk was a Baltimore copy. Antoine Baptiste was a New Orleans trombone player from the Sixth Ward in “Treme.” Simon nailed it, casting Pierce for his HBO series about New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Here’s the caption:
“Antoine.” Wendell Pierce, was Detective Bunk Moreland in HBO’s The Wire. A graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School and Julliard’s Drama Division, Pierce’s first on-screen role was in the 1986 film “The Money Pit.” He earned critical acclaim in Spike Lee’s 1996 Get on the Bus, and had a recurring role in the television drama NUMB3RS. In 2010, producer/writer David Simon once again turned to Pierce (who grew up in Gentilly) for his HBO drama, Treme, where he plays “Antoine Batiste, a journeyman trombone player who makes his way through post-Katrina New Orleans. In addition to being one of the dramatic faces of modern New Orleans, Pierce is working to give back to his community, financing and promoting a chain of grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods.
Of course, Wendell’s grown way past Antoine by now, earning a Tony nomination for his portrayal of Willy Loman in the revival of “Death of a Salesman” to crushing it as James Greer in “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. Check out his extensive Wikipedia entry.
Legendary Locals of New Orleans
As mentioned earlier, Legendary Locals of New Orleans differs from the IoA books. A few years ago, a local group of school librarians invited me to speak at one of their meetings. I told them, of the books I’ve written, the one that really should be on their shelves was Legendary Locals. Think about it–a teacher assigns a project for social studies, write a report about someone notable in the city’s history. What’s the kid likely to do? Go to the school library and lay the assignment out for the librarian. Rather than simply suggest a name or two, hand the student my books. Tell them to flip through the short (100-150 word) entries on each Legendary Local. Some may pick an athlete, others a musician. There’s a wide range of personalities.
(NOTE: this book is a great gift for the library at your kid’s school. If you do that, order the hardcover edition of the book. It costs a bit more, but the librarian will appreciate it.
From the back cover:
Since its founding in 1718 by the LeMoyne brothers, New Orleans has cemented its status as one of the busiest ports on the continent. Producing many unique and fascinating individuals, Colonial New Orleans was a true gumbo of personalities. The city lays claim to many nationalities, including Spaniards Baron Carondelet, Don Andres Almonester, and French sailors and privateers Jean Lafitte and Dominique Youx. Businessmen like Daniel Henry Holmes and Isidore Newman contributed to local flavor, as did musicians Buddy Bolden, Joe “King” Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and Louis Prima. War heroes include P.G.T. Beauregard and Andrew Jackson Higgins. Avery Alexander, A.P. Tureaud, and Ernest Morial paved the way for African Americans to lead the city. Kate Chopin, Lafcadio Hearn, Ellen DeGeneres, Mel Ott, Archie Manning, and Drew Brees have kept the world entertained, while chefs and restaurateurs like Leah Chase and the Brennans sharpened the city’s culinary chops. Legendary Locals of New Orleans pays homage to the notables that put spice in that gumbo.
Available at local bookstores, Walgreens stores, other local shops, Bookshop, and other online outlets. Give history! Support NOLA History Guy December.