Sweet Emma Barrett

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Sweet Emma Barrett
Birth name Emma Barrett
Also known as Bell Gal
Born (1897-03-25)March 25, 1897
Origin New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Died January 28, 1983(1983-01-28) (aged 85)
Genres Dixieland jazz
Occupation(s) Singer
Instruments Piano
Years active 1920s–1983
Labels Riverside
Associated acts Papa Celestin

"Sweet Emma" Barrett (March 25, 1897, New Orleans, Louisiana – January 28, 1983) was an American self-taught jazz pianist and singer who worked with the Original Tuxedo Orchestra between 1923 and 1936,[1] first under Papa Celestin, then William Ridgely. Also active with Armand Piron, John Robichaux, and Sidney Desvigne, Sweet Emma Barrett was at her most powerful in the early 1960s and became an iconic figure with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.


In 1947, she accepted a steady job at a local club, Happy Landing, but it was her 1961 recording debut, with her own album in the Riverside Records New Orleans: The Living Legends series, that brought her recognition from beyond the Crescent City. Although most of the songs on the album were instrumentals, others featured vocals by Barrett that the liner notes described as her first recordings as a vocalist.

She was nicknamed Bell Gal because she wore a red skull cap and garters with Christmas bells that jingled in time with her music. She was featured on the cover of Glamour magazine and written up in publications on both sides of the Atlantic. When the Preservation Hall Jazz Band began to "hit the road", she took it on international tours. Barrett toured in the United States as well, including a stint at Disneyland in 1963.

Despite the popular exposure she received at concerts and overseas appearances, Barrett continued to feel most comfortable in her native New Orleans, especially the French Quarter. In 1963, on her album The Bell Gal And Her Dixieland Boys Music, Barrett sings on four of the eight songs and heads two overlapping groups. While she is joined throughout by banjoist Emanuel Sayles, bassist Placide Adams, and drummer Paul Barbarin, four songs feature trumpeter Alvin Alcorn, trombonist Jim Robinson and clarinetist Louis Cottrell, Jr.; the remaining four numbers have trumpeter Don Albert, trombonist Frog Joseph and clarinetist Raymond Burke. Overall, this set gives listeners a good sampling of the sound of New Orleans jazz circa 1963 and is one of the few recordings of Barrett mostly without the regular members of what would become the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Robinson and Sayles excepted). The ensemble-oriented renditions of such numbers as "Big Butter and Egg Man", "Bogalusa Strut", and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"' are rendered with fun and joy.[2]

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band made a brief appearance in the 1965 film, The Cincinnati Kid, which featured Barrett as vocalist and pianist for the band and included a close-up of her.

In 1967, she suffered a stroke that paralyzed her left side, but she continued to work and occasionally, to record, until her death in 1983.


Year Title Genre Label
1968 Sweet Emma Barrett And Her Original Tuxedo Jazz Band At Dixieland Hall Jazz Riverside
1964 Sweet Emma Barrett And Her Preservation Jazz Band Jazz Preservation Hall
1963 Sweet Emma Barrett And Her New Orleans Music Jazz Southland
1961 The Bell Gal And Her Dixieland Boys Jazz Riverside
1960 Sweet Emma Jazz Riverside


  1. "Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra". Redhotjazz.com. Retrieved 2014-07-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Scott Yanow. "Sweet Emma Barrett and Her New Orleans Music - Sweet Emma Barrett | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-07-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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