Oscar “Papa” Celestin was born on January 1, 1884 in Napoleonville, Louisiana to a Creole family. As a youth he worked on rural Louisiana plantations but eager for a better life, he worked as a cook for the Texas & Pacific Railroad, saved up money and bought used musical instruments. He played guitar and trombone before deciding on cornet as his main instrument. He took music lessons from Claiborne Williams, who traveled down the Bayou Lafourche from Donaldsonville.
Celestin played with the Algiers Brass Band by the early 1900s, and with various small town bands before moving to New Orleans in 1904, at age 20. There he played with the Imperial, Indiana, Henry Allen senior’s Olympia Brass Band, and Jack Carey’s dance band. Early in his career he was sometimes known as Sonny Celestin. Around 1910 he landed a job as leader of the house band at the Tuxedo Dance Hall on North Franklin St. at the edge of Storyville.
Keeping the name Tuxedo as the band’s name after the Dance Hall closed, they dressed in tuxedos and became one of the most popular bands hired for society functions, both black and white. He co-led the Tuxedo Band with trombonist William Ridgely and made their first recordings during the Okeh Records field trip to New Orleans in 1925. Following a fallout with Ridgely, the two led competing Tuxedo bands for about five years. Celestin’s Original Tuxedo Orchestra had Louis Armstrong, Bill Mathews, Octave Crosby, Christopher Goldston, Joe Oliver, Mutt Carey, Alphonse Picou and Ricard Alexis as a members over the years and made an additional series of recordings for Columbia Records through the 1920s. He also led the Tuxedo Brass Band, one of the top brass bands in the city.
Forced out of the business by depression economics, Papa worked in a shipyard until putting together another band after the World War II. The new Tuxedo Brass Band was tremendously popular and became a New Orleans tourist attraction. By 1953 he appeared in the travelogue Cinerama Holiday, became a regular feature at the Paddock Lounge on Bourbon Street and gave a command performance for President Eisenhower at the White House. He made regular radio broadcasts, television appearance, and more recordings with his last recording was singing on Marie LaVeau in 1954.
Bandleader, trumpeter, cornetist and vocalist Papa Celestin passed away in New Orleans, Louisiana on December 15, 1954, amassing 4000 people who marched in his funeral parade. The Jazz Foundation of New Orleans had a bust made and donated to the Delgado Museum in New Orleans, in honor of his contributions to the genre. #preserving genius