Musician, restaurateur, civic leader Dooky Chase dead at 88
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans restaurateur, musician and civic leader Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr. has died at age 88.
Chase died Tuesday, his granddaughter Tracie Griffin said Wednesday.
She said Chase and his wife, chef Leah Chase, had been married for 70 years. For decades, Leah Chase has been a fixture and mainstay of the family restaurant named for Dooky Chase’s father.
The restaurant was open Wednesday, Griffin said, adding, “Of course, she’s in the kitchen.”
In an emailed statement, Mayor Mitch Landrieu called Dooky Chase a New Orleans legend.
“As the patriarch of a great New Orleans family, he was a man dedicated to faith who had an infectious smile, a word of wisdom or joke for anyone who came through his doors on Orleans Avenue,” Landrieu said. He added that Chase “leaves a legacy of kindness and generosity for us all.”
The famed Dooky Chase’s Restaurant opened in 1939 as a street corner stand selling sandwiches and lottery tickets, and moved it in 1941 to its present location.
The younger Chase delivered sandwiches for the shop but went on to play trumpet in his own jazz band, the Dooky Chase Orchestra, according to a biography on the Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr. and Leah Chase Family Foundation’s website. As treasurer of the local musicians’ union, he “was able to raise the pay scale,” it said.
He met Leah Lange when his band was playing for a Mardi Gras ball in 1945, and they married the next year.
After the band’s last performance in 1949, Chase became an entertainment promoter, and hosted Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, Nat King Cole at the restaurant, according to the biography.
It said Chase and his mother ran the restaurant together after Dooky Chase Sr. died in 1957.
Leah Chase joined him at the restaurant once their four children, Emily, Stella, Edgar “Dooky” III and Leah were all in school.
During the civil rights era, Chase went door-to-door and spoke on the radio to get people to register to vote.
The restaurant “went on to provide a safe place for individuals of all ethnic communities to meet and discuss strategies for the Civil Rights Movement,” according to the biography. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Thurgood Marshall and Andrew Young were among civil rights leaders who “gathered to have pivotal discussions over a bowl of gumbo” there.
Chase also was vice president of the New Orleans Tourist Commission from 1978-83, a New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival board member during its early years and was on the committee for the 1984 World’s Fair, according to the biography.