24th April 16:52
Ernir K-Doe in the NY Times
Click on the link for the article, which has a picture of the mannequin.
All Dolled Up in His Lounge and Shrine
July 23, 2003
By NEIL STRAUSS
NEW ORLEANS - The regulars at the Ernie K-Doe Mother-in-Law
Lounge call it a statue, and few have the heart to correct
them. It is actually a mannequin. Positioned regally in the
corner, it looks eerily like Ernie K-Doe, the eccentric
60's rhythm-and-blues singer who ran this out-of-the-way
bar until his death two years ago.
The mannequin's long black tresses are similar to his. (If
he indeed wore a wig as some fans claimed, this may be it.)
The outfits, changed regularly, are all clothes that he
wore onstage: ornate sequined and tasseled purple and pink
suits designed by his wife, an emperor's crown, even socks.
And the glistening fingernails are oddly lifelike.
"The hands come off so I can take them across the street
for a manicure," explained Antoinette K-Doe, his widow.
"It's the same place Ernie used to go. I always said that
the only time Ernie left home was to go across the street
and get his nails manicured."
She paused. "I like to keep him looking good now like he
did in life."
When Mr. K-Doe died, of cancer of the esophagus at age 65,
many thought that also meant the end of his lounge, where
he had lived, held court and sung along with his CD's on a
taxicab-dispatcher microphone behind the bar. (It was named
after his biggest hit, "Mother-in-Law.")
But his widow has kept the place alive, turning it into a
shrine to Mr. K-Doe, with the mannequin as the centerpiece.
One lounge regular, known as Quintron, an experimental
punk-funk organist who recently toured as an opening act
for the White Stripes, said the bar had become even more
exciting since Mr. K-Doe's death. "And it's because of
her," he said, pointing to Ms. K-Doe. "She's making Ernie
into the Elvis of New Orleans."
In Mr. K-Doe's immodest mind, he was a superstar, or as he
liked to put it, the Emperor of the Universe. At his
infamous appearance at the Rhythm and Blues Foundation
awards ceremony in New York in 1998, he told the crowd
(which included Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight), "There
have only been five great artists in the history of rhythm
and blues - Ernie K-Doe, James Brown and Ernie K-Doe."
In his own world of the lounge, the proceedings could get
even stranger: a trip there never failed to yield
adventure. Once he locked this reporter (and the
establishment's patrons) in the bar after an interview and
summoned the police in an attempt to reclaim the interview
tape, which he thought had been used to bootleg his
Born Ernest Kador Jr., the son of a minister, he sang as a
****ager with gospel and church groups. In 1959 he began
working with the New Orleans producer and pianist Allen
Toussaint, who recorded "Mother-in-Law" with him in 1961.
The song hit No. 1 on the pop charts. Mr. K-Doe used to
tell patrons at his lounge that there were only three songs
that will last forever: <object.title class="Movie"
Grace,"</object.title> "The Star-Spangled Banner" and
"Mother-in-Law," the latter because "as long as there are
people on this earth, there will always be mother-in-laws."
After a few smaller hits in the 60's (one, "A Certain
Girl," was covered by the Yardbirds), Mr. K-Doe faded away.
When Mr. K-Doe married Antoinette in 1994 - they renewed
their vows every year - he was at a personal and
professional low. But now he had found someone who could
help him rehabilitate his career and curb his alcoholism
(by helping him open a bar, of all things). He had also
found someone who truly believed his own hype and was
willing to live in his reality. Ms. K-Doe's loyalty to that
reality has only strengthened since his death.
On July 5 Ms. K-Doe held a yard sale and benefit concert at
the lounge to commemorate the second anniversary of his
death, cooking up pots of red beans and rice for customers.
Eight days later she held a larger benefit concert at the
Rock 'n' Bowl in New Orleans for the Friends of New Orleans
Cemeteries, which donated a space in a historic society
tomb to Mr. K-Doe when he died.
"You lost a legend, but I lost a husband," Ms. K-Doe said
when asked about her commitment to the lounge. "I had to
reach down and find my inner strength. Because if you close
down the Mother-in-Law Lounge, you disappoint millions of
people around the world."
Since Mr. K-Doe's death, the tradition that Mr. K-Doe
started has been carried on largely by the young white
hipsters and musicians who were his regulars. Many of them
pitched in to help Ms. K-Doe after her husband's death.
Jason Poirier created the statue. Quintron installed a
low-power radio in it so that anyone tuning in to 1500 AM
within a block of the lounge (at 1500 North Claiborne) can
hear a tape loop of Mr. K-Doe's voice. Daniel Fuselier, who
helps build Mardi Gras floats, painted colorful murals on
the outside walls of the lounge. And some regulars, at Ms.
K-Doe's request, perform her husband's hits at the bar and
even dress as Mr. K-Doe, sometimes in blackface, to escort
her to public functions.
"Antoinette's like my mom and my sister," said Matt Vis, a
lounge regular. "And we'll all do anything we can to help
her out. If she wants electrical work, Quintron will do it.
If she needs plumbing, I'll do it."
In the last year the lounge has become a living museum
dedicated to Mr. K-Doe. Photos of him adorn the walls, and
artifacts from his life are sealed in a glass display case.
There are souvenirs for sale emblazoned with some of Mr.
K-Doe's one-liners: a T-shirt that reads "burn K-Doe burn"
and boxer shorts with his phrase, "I'm ****y but I'm good."
There are plates, glasses, mugs and candles emblazoned with
gold stars and a photograph of Mr. K-Doe. On close
inspection it becomes clear that the images have simply
been cut out and glued to these items.
Then there is the mannequin. His widow often takes it out
with her to public appearances, sometimes charging people
who want to take photos with it. The statue is accompanied
by a bodyguard, Spencer Trent (nicknamed Cisco when he
provided security for Mr. K-Doe), to prevent fans from
manhandling it. And Geannie Thomas, a former dancer in Mr.
K-Doe's shows, is its caretaker. At the July 5 benefit she
could be found primping the statue's hair and powdering its
face. "It's a job," said Ms. Thomas, who runs a commercial
cleaning business. "We want to make sure Ernie goes out
there right. Everything that Ernie wore when he was alive,
that statue wears, down to the boxer shorts. Even the watch
She added, "It's like he's right here with us."
said she would like to take the mannequin on the road,
noting that Mr. K-Doe "was a traveling person." She
mentioned that she wanted to get in touch with Smokey
Robinson, who was the M.C. at the Rhythm and Blues
Foundation awards ceremony, to help her take the statue to
New York and put on a show there. "It's been two years, and
I've done all I can do for New Orleans with his legacy,"
she said of Mr. K-Doe. "Now it's time to share it with the
rest of the world."