Famous New Orleanians
- Ellen DeGeneres: Born and raised in Metairie, Louisiana, successful talk show host, stand-up comedian and LGBT advocate Ellen DeGeneres has found her niche in series television. With multiple acclaimed TV shows (Ellen, The Ellen Show, and finally The Ellen DeGeneres Show) and film voiceover performances, including playing the role of forgetful fish Dory in Pixar's popular "Finding Nemo," the universally loved comedienne is now exploring other entertainment avenues.
Info from the Internet Movie Database
- John Larroquette: Made famous by NBC's 1980s sitcom Night Court, actor John Larroquette got his start the old-fashioned way: by moving to Hollywood from his hometown of New Orleans and making it happen. Overcoming a two-decade struggle with alcoholism, Larroquette went on to star in The John Larroquette Show and Boston Legal.
Info from the Internet Movie Database
- Jay Thomas: Perhaps best known for his voice and radio work, New Orleans-raised actor and comedian Jay Thomas began his performance career as a college sports radio announcer, going on to become a favorite DJ at several southern radio stations. From 1980 to 1983, he appeared on Mork and Mindy, launching a career packed full of recurring television appearances on shows like Cheers and Murphy Brown. He lost his battle with cancer in 2017.
Filmography for Jay Thomas: from the Internet Movie Database
- Patricia Clarkson: Two-time Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Patricia Clarkson has worked steadily in film, theater and television since launching her career in 1985. She's acted with and been directed by such notables as Woody Allen, Justin Timberlake, and Tom Hanks, to name a few.
- Bryan Batt: Best known for his role as closeted gay art director Salvatore "Sal" Romano on AMC's wildly popular Mad Men series, Batt is a lifelong New Orleans resident. He also owns a fine gifts and furnishing store, Hazelnut, on Oak Street in New Orleans (a popular Uptown shopping corridor).
- Reese Witherspoon: Did you know Reese Witherspoon was born in New Orleans? Though she grew up in Nashville, Witherspoon's roots remain in the Big Easy, and she's a Southern girl through and through. Her long filmography includes box office smashes like "Legally Blonde," "Sweet Home Alabama," and "Walk the Line."
Chefs & Restaurateurs
- Emeril Lagasse: BAM! Sound familiar? World-famous chef Emeril Lagasse is just one of the many culinary luminaries who call New Orleans home. Though awarded a scholarship to study percussion at the New England Conservatory, the charismatic Emeril chose to attend Johnson & Wales University in the hope of becoming a chef. After succeeding Paul Prudhomme as executive chef of New Orleans' famous Commander's Palace, Emeril went on to build an empire of proprietary restaurants. He's authored a dozen cookbooks, and has even cooked for NASA astronauts.
Chef Emeril Lagasse: schedule of programs from The Food Network.
- Ella Brennan: Commander's Palace's Ella Brennan was the Grande Dame of New Orleans Restauranteurs. She couldn't cook–never wanted to–yet she helped propel the careers of many renowned chefs, including Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse, Jamie Shannon and Tory McPhail.
- Paul Prudhomme: Born in 1940 to a family of cooks in Opelousas, Louisiana, Paul Prudhomme was largely responsible for the Cajun cooking craze in the 1980s. His first restaurant, K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, opened in New Orleans' French Quarter in 1979, after Prudhomme's tenure at Commander's Palace came to an end. Looking to bring his signature spice to more diners, Prudhomme began producing his line of "Magic" seasonings in 1983. Despite his death in 2015, K-Paul's continues to be a New Orleans staple for locals and tourists alike.
Interview with Chef Paul: from Star Chefs
- Leah Chase: A New Orleans celebrity, Leah Chase was famous not only for her cooking, but for the central part her restaurant, Dooky Chase, played in the African-American civil rights movement. Dooky Chase also houses a substantial collection of African-American art. Though Leah passed away in 2019, Dooky Chase remains a stanchion of New Orleans Creole cuisine.
- Al Copeland: Renowned restaurateur Al Copeland never finished high school, rising from humble beginnings in the St. Thomas housing projects to become one of New Orleans' wealthiest businessman. Copeland created Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits, and went on to found Copeland's, a family restaurant with more than locations nationwide, as well as numerous other projects. Copeland lost his battle with cancer in 2008 but his family has continued his legacy.
- Louis Armstrong: Satchmo, Pops, Dipper, New Orleans' most famous son--whatever you want to call him, Louis Armstrong's influence on jazz music and the city of New Orleans cannot be overestimated. Growing up poor in the city, Armstrong took to playing cornet during his time at the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, and gained experience playing on Mississippi riverboats and with his mentor, Joe "King" Oliver. Later switching to trumpet, he was one of the rare few black performers to transcend the racial divide, often staying in hotels reserved exclusively for whites, but was privately a strong supporter of the black civil rights movement. Armstrong's colorful memoirs are a testament to his larger-than-life personality, unique perspective, and undeniable love for playing music.
- Louis Armstrong Facts and biography
- Harry Connick, Jr.: Actor, musician, composer and conductor Harry Connick, Jr. wears many hats. Growing up in Lakeview, New Orleans, Connick got into music early, performing a Beethoven concerto with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra at the tender age of nine. After attending multiple area high schools, Connick moved to New York to pursue a career in jazz piano, eventually adding vocal chops to his list of achievements. With dozens of bestselling albums, the musician again resides in New Orleans with his family, where he is a noted philanthropist and popular speaker.
- Pete Fountain: Born Pierre Dewey LaFontaine, Jr. in 1930, Pete Fountain began playing clarinet as an unorthodox treatment for a stubborn childhood respiratory infection. Having played with respected New Orleans trumpeter Al Hirt, Fountain founded the Basin Street Six, eventually joining the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. The clarinetist's trademark woody sound is due in part to his preference for crystal mouthpieces. Fountain recorded over 100 LPs and CDs under his own name before passing away in 2016.
- Our clarinet musician...an interview on his life and music
- Fats Domino: Ain't That A Shame, Blueberry Hill, I'm Walkin'....who could forget legendary rock 'n roller Fats Domino, a kid from the Ninth Ward who changed the course of New Orleans music? No one will ever be ablet to fill his shoes–much less walk to New Orleans in them.
- Mahalia Jackson: "The Queen of Gospel" was known for her amazing voice and for her contributions to Civil Rights.
- Amanda Shaw: Young fiddler Amanda Shaw was born and raised in New Orleans, attending Mount Carmel Academy before leaving high school to pursue a traveling musical career. Shaw has released several albums, and headlines a show at the New Orleans Jazz Fest every year.
- Aaron Neville: The soulful Aaron Neville is one of a family of talented musicians who have played together for years as the Neville Brothers. Apart from his distinctive tenor, Neville is known for his duets with pop singer Linda Ronstadt.
- Buddy Bolden: A Louisiana legend about whom, regretfully, not enough is known. Buddy Bolden played the cornet so well that he was known as "King Bolden"; playing by ear, he adapted the existing style of ragtime and is credited with inventing the "Big Four," a rhythmic innovation that allowed for more improvisation on a marching band beat.
- Dr. John: Born Malcolm John "Mac" Rebennack, Jr., Dr. John is a New Orleans legend. His musical stylings combined jazz, blues, pop, zydeco, boogie woogie, and rock and roll for a stage show like you've never seen before. As a session musician in LA in the 1960s, Dr. John worked with Sonny and Cher, Canned Heat, and many others, before reinventing himself as "Dr. John, the Night Tripper." The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival was named after one of his albums. He passed away in 2019.
- Irma Thomas: The "Soul Queen of New Orleans," Irma Thomas has never received the level of attention that her contemporaries Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Dionne Warwick did, but she is nonetheless one of the nation's greatest soul singers. In 2007, she was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, and performs annually at Jazz Fest.
- Lil Wayne: Controversial and prolific rapper Lil Wayne started his musical career early, joining the Hot Boys at 15 after being signed to Cash Money Records at the tender age of nine. He's released countless mixtapes and nine studio albums, and collaborates with a wide variety of artists across genres.
- Wynton Marsalis: This modern jazzman hails from a legendary family of talented musicians, led by his father Ellis. The winner of multiple Grammy Awards, Wynton currently serves as artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Inventors and Scientists
- Ruth Benerito: You can thank Ruth Benerito for your wrinkle-free T-shirt. The inventor of wrinkle-free cotton, Benerito became interested in chemistry in high school. Besides her momentous contributions to the textile industry, she also invented a way to feed soldiers intravenously during the Korean War.
- Andrew Higgins: A self-made man, Andrew Higgins was responsible for the landing craft that allowed U.S. troops to make amphibious landings during World War II. Eisenhower is quoted as saying, "Andrew Higgins...is the man who won the war for us."
- Joseph Lascaux: In 1921, this dentist invented a machine that spun sugar and called it cotton candy.
- Anne Rice: Made famous by her gothic vampire novels and erotica, bestselling author Anne Rice was born and resided for most of her life in New Orleans, leaving the city shortly before Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Rice wrote over 20 novels featuring vampires, witches, and other supernatural creatures, but eventually came to rediscover her Roman Catholic faith. She began to chronicle the life of Jesus Christ in a three-part series, but the final book was postponed indefinitely after Rice left the Christian church (making sure to emphasize that it was not her belief in God she was abandoning).
Anne Rice -- her official site
- Truman Capote: The New Orleans-born Capote knew he wanted to be a writer by the age of 11, overcoming a difficult childhood to write increasingly well-received short stories. His most famous works, the novel "In Cold Blood" and novella "Breakfast at Tiffany's," are both considered American classics.
- Grace King: Born in 1852 to a wealthy New Orleans family, Grace King was the daughter of a family that lost much of its wealth, but not its status, during the Union occupation of the Civil War. Later, after attending several schools in New Orleans, including a French-speaking Catholic academy, King established herself as a knowledgeable and honest presenter of the Creole and antebellum South in both fiction and nonfiction genres.
- Alice Dunbar-Nelson: The daughter of a slave freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, Alice Dunbar-Nelson was a teacher and fiction writer who attended Straight College, now Dillard University, in New Orleans. Later moving to Delaware, she became one of the major writers at the head of the Harlem Renaissance.
- John Kennedy Toole: The Pulizer Prize-winning author of A Confederacy of Dunces
- Tennessee Williams: This playwright, another Pulitzer Prize winner, felt most in home in New Orleans where he penned A Streetcar Named Desire.
- Clarence John Laughlin: A self-taught photographer, Laughlin was born in Lake Charles, LA, but moved to New Orleans at a young age. His photos concern themselves not with documentation, but with the use of the camera as a "third eye" to capture things unseen. His 17,000 large-format prints are sometimes considered to be the first surrealist photographs ever taken. The Historic New Orleans Collection houses much of his work.
- Florville Foy: The little-known Florville Foy was a marble cutter and sculptor, born in New Orleans in 1819. His works--among them, statues, tombs, vaults, and headstones--can be seen in some of New Orleans' oldest cemeteries.
- George Rodrigue: Famous for his "Blue Dog" paintings, Rodrigue was born in New Iberia, Louisiana. He began by painting family portraits under the Louisiana oaks, and became famous when the blue dog, based on his deceased pet, Tiffany, was publicized by Absolut Vodka.
- Garland Robinette: Former anchorman Garland Robinette is a beloved local artist, known these days for his portraits and juju doll art.
- James Michaloupoulos: This self-taught painter and sculptor is perhaps best known for his colorful works depicting New Orleans architecture.
- Terrance Osborne: This local artist has a wonderful gallery at 3029 Magazine Street and is known for his colorful New Orleans scenes.
- Drew Brees: Affectionately known as "Breesus" in the Big Easy, former Saints quarterback Drew Brees is a New Orleans hometown hero for his uncanny aim, football brilliance, and genuine goodheartedness.
- Archie Manning, Eli Manning and Peyton Manning: Though the Mannings all deserve their own entries, Experience New Orleans likes to think of them as a set! Family patriarch Archie Manning quarterbacked for the New Orleans Saints for ten seasons from 1971 to 1982; his sons Eli and Peyton followed in his footsteps, both becoming successful NFL quarterbacks.
- Mel Ott: Born in Gretna, Louisiana, New York Giants right fielder Mel Ott was the first National League player to surpass 500 runs and the youngest player to hit 100 home runs! He was a power hitter, a 12-time All-Star, and went on to manage the New York Giants for seven seasons.
- Reggie Wayne: Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne set records at the University of Miami as a freshman, going on to be selected by the Colts with the 30th draft pick in 2001.
- Cokie Roberts: Born in New Orleans, award-winning journalist, author, analyst and NPR commentator Cokie Roberts was the daughter of former Congresswoman Lindy Boggs and former Majority House Leader Hale Boggs. She passed away in 2019.
- James Carville: Renowned political consultant, pundit and personality James Carville is well-known for the Cajun flavor of his illuminating insights, and has contributed to many political shows and campaigns. He now teaches political science at Tulane University.
- Douglas Brinkley: CNN and Vanity Fair's Douglas Brinkley served on the faculties of both University of New Orleans and Tulane University.
- Arthel Neville: As the daughter of widely respected New Orleans jazz musician Art Neville, Arthel Neville had big shoes to fill. Having switched colleges and majors several times, Arthel settled on journalism, quickly rising from beat reporter to celebrated host of 90s interview show Extreme Close-Up. She became the nation's first high-profile African-American entertainment reporter, and followed this achievement with a slew of others, including repeat appearances on CNN, Fox, ABC, and other networks.
New Orleanians Who Made a Difference
- Margaret Haughery, the "Bread Woman of New Orleans": Often forgotten, Margaret Haughery was one of New Orleans' most generous philanthropists. An Irish immigrant who lost her entire family by her mid-20s, Margaret dedicated her life to the care and feeding of New Orleans orphans and the poor.
- Ruby Bridges: Legendary little girl Ruby Bridges was the first African-American student in the South to integrate an all-white elementary school. She was treated terribly for her bravery, and spent the first year of school being taught alone, as no teachers would instruct her. However, Bridges paved the way for continued integration, and set an example in front of the eyes of the nation.
Fun Facts About Three of New Orleans Most Fascinating Females
- The Baroness Pontalba: The Pontalba Buildings on Jackson Square were built by the Baroness Micaela Almonester Pontalba, a member of one of the oldest white Creole families in the city and a cousin of Civil War General P.G.T. Beauregard. After her father died when she was two years old, Micaela became the sole heiress to a sizeable fortune. At the age of 15, a marriage was arranged for her to marry her cousin who lived just outside Paris. Tempers flared between Micaela and her father-in-law, Baron Pontalba, who was determined to get his hands on the Almonester fortune and was a little off-balance to begin with. Micaela's attempts to protect her fortune angered the old baron, who ended up shooting Micaela with a pair of dueling pistols. She survived, despite having been shot in the chest and hands, with her fingers shattered. After several attempts, the baron committed suicide with the same pistol. In portraits, the Baroness' fingers are mostly hidden. Her dramatic life inspired many novels and an opera.
- Marie Laveau: Marie Laveau, the most famous voodoo queen in American history, was actually a devout Catholic who attended mass daily. She was baptized and married in St. Louis Church, and worked tirelessly for the poor alongside the church’s pastor, Pere Antoine. Marie mixed Roman Cathlic beliefs including saints with African spirits and religious concepts. Her clients, of whom their were many, claimed Marie had undeniable powers. Others say she knew what she knew only because she was a hairdresser to the wealthy white Creole women who confessed their most intimates secrets to her. Some believe that if you draw “XXX” on the side of her tomb in St. Louis Cemetery #1, she will grant you a wish.
- Norma Wallace: Norma Wallace was the madam of the most popular sporting house in New Orleans for more than four decades. Norma’s was the longest continuous operation on record in the city, beginning around 1920 at 328 Burgundy Street, moving to 410 Dauphine in 1928, and then to 1026 Conti Street in 1938 where it remained open until the early 60s. After her 1962 arrest and her first jail term in forty-two years, Norma gradually opened a sporting house in the old Cedar Grove Plantation across the Mississippi River. According to the New York Times, Wallace “had the wit of Dorothy Parker and the instinct for self-dramatization of Tallulah Bankhead.” She was “not merely a great French Quarter character but a kind of power broker. Mayors, governors, gangsters, prizefighters, movie stars and an endless parade of prominent New Orleans gentlemen came through her doors. When Wallace was asked in the late 1950's if there was any important man she didn't have in her pocket, she had to think about it. ‘The president,’ she finally said.”
If you're intersted in more NOLA history, click here for a list of tours led by educated, entertaining guides. For a list of French Quarter restaurants to dine at before or after your tour, click here.