With Mr. Okra’s death, an end of an era

In Uptown New Orleans where I grew up, the horse-drawn Roman Candy Wagon rolling by was a big occasion.  But that was 50 years ago and rolling street vendors, a long tradition in New Orleans, are pretty much gone.  Before reading the rest of this story, click the arrow below and get Louis Jordan and rest of my show going.

 

mr.-okra.jpg

Mr. Okra, aka Arthur J. Robinson, died this month.

My family used to frequent a vegetable vendor who would set up near McMann School at the corner of Claiborne and Nashville.  But apparently over the years, the tradition had died out until all that was left was Mr. Okra. And now he is gone.  Here’s an excerpt from an article by Ann Maloney for the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Family, friends and customers filed through the Marigny Opera House on Ferdinand Street on Sunday (Feb. 25) afternoon to say good-bye to beloved street peddler Arthur J. “Mr. Okra” Robinson, who was laid out dressed just as they might remember him, with his suspenders and, in his hands, a straw hat topped with plastic fruit. His truck keys were looped around his little finger. . .

. . .Arthur Robinson was often called the last of the New Orleans Street vendors because he upheld a tradition of shouting out his wares with “I’ve got apples. I’ve got mangos…,” as he drove through the city streets. It was a tradition that was popular into the mid-1900s in New Orleans. By 2005, Robinson said of himself: “I’m about the only one that really goes around anymore. Most all the old peddlers are dead now, just about.”

It wasn’t just vegetables and fruit.  Louis Armstrong got his start as a musician working with an owner of junk wagon. At age 7, he would blow a tin horn to attract attention as the wagon rolled through the streets of New Orleans.

And apparently the Roman Candy Wagon is still operating (though these days most folks see it on display at the New Orleans Jazz Fest.)

In this week’s show, I include a short interview with Craig Klein, a founding member of Bonerama ,who co-wrote a song dedicated to Mr. Okra.  You’ll hear that song about 15 minutes into the show.  I also feature Louie Ludwig’s wonderful ode to fake news “Troll Factory.”  I have a set on drinking bourbon and whiskey and a Latin-inflected set featuring Los Hombres Calientes, the Iguanas and Los Po-Boy-Citos. And much more.

Thanks for listening.

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About Tim Sweeney

Volunteer deejay for community radio station KAOS 89.3 FM Olympia, Washington -- www.kaosradio.org. Host of Sweeney's Gumbo YaYa - a two-hour radio show featuring the music of New Orleans -- every Thursday starting at 10 a.m. (PST)
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