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New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint dies at age 77

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Allen Toussaint died shortly after a performance in Madrid. His music has kept New Orleans' musical tradition strong and influenced generations of rock artists.

The legendary rhythm and blues songwriter and composer Allen Toussaint died from a heart attack in Madrid Tuesday morning while on a European tour. The 77-year-old had given a concert just the night before.

His family first announced the death to New Orleans television station WWL.

A spokesman for Madrid emergency services reported that rescue workers were called to Toussaint's hotel after his heart attack but were unable to revive him.

He stopped breathing in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Storied history

Toussaint is considered one of the most influential artists in New Orleans' storied musical history.

His music has been covered by such rock greats as The Rolling Stones, The Who and Jerry Garcia and has served as an inspiration to generations of musicians, including Paul McCartney, according to WWL.

Born in 1938 and raised in the working class neighborhood of Gert Town, Toussaint started playing piano at the age of 6. He performed for local bands as a teenager before dropping out of high school to devote himself entirely to his music career.

By the 1960s he was producing a number of hits for New Orleans R&B artists. Returning from a stint with the US army in the middle of the decade, he continued to compose a number of chart-topping songs, such as "Working in the Coal Mine" and "Lady Marmalade," and collaborating with well-known musicians such as the New Orleans quartet the Meters.

Toussaint did not perform much throughout his career, preferring a more behind-the-scenes involvement. He was given new attention, however, when Hurricane Katrina devastated his home in 2005.

Allen Toussaint

Toussaint in France in April

He evacuated to New York, composed new music and began a solo act before returning to New Orleans. Toussaint recently earned a number of accolades, including the National Medal of Arts - the highest honor for an American artist - and the Recording Academy Trustees Award at the 2009 Grammy Awards.

Toussaint had announced a December 8 benefit concert with Paul Simon for New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness, a charity that he had helped found.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Toussaint in 1998 for keeping the city's old-school R&B traditions alive - joining it to new trends like funk and soul - and for bringing the "New Orleans sound to the national stage."

jtm/mkg (AFP, AP)

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