Pete Fountain: A Closer Walk With Thee
Pete Fountain’s face, one of the most recognizable in music, normally glows with a smile, or the corona of one. Not so in the days after Hurricane Katrina. His New Orleans’s home flooded after the levees broke, and his West Indies–style plantation home in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, was swept into the Gulf of Mexico, leaving only the foundation. Pete Fountain was devastated, despondent, and disheartened, and his face showed it. “Like we say here [in New Orleans], ‘Ain’t dere no more,” Pete says. “Everything I’d worked for all my life was gone—my gold records, letters from Frank Sinatra, pictures with presidents—just to name a few of the sentimental things I was most proud of.” But even Katrina couldn’t nudge the foundation of his spiritual life. “I was angry and bitter at first. I just couldn’t believe this had happened to me. But the love and support of my family and my faith in God turned me around.”
That persistent twin melody of faith and family has played throughout Pete’s life, sustaining him in robust times and in difficult times. To know Pete is to know his love for family and his reliance on his faith. He recently talked with Liguorian to share that message with you.
What name have you given this child?” asked the priest at a New Orleans church in 1930. The proud response of the baby boy’s parents: “Pierre Dewey LaFontaine, Jr.”
As a child, young Pierre—Pete—battled respiratory infections due to weakened lungs. Expensive medications failed to prove effective. Pete’s father chose to follow the advice of a neighborhood doctor and try an unorthodox treatment—using a musical instrument that needs to be blown into. After Pete was dissuaded from choosing the drums, he chose the clarinet. With continued practice and private lessons, he not only improved the health of his lungs, he also set himself on the path of musical success.
Since the 1950s, Fountain has recorded more than 100 jazz albums, three of which have gone gold. He appeared fifty-nine times with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and had a two-year stint on the nationally televised Lawrence Welk Show.
Although Pete Fountain is a household name, the unpretentious name “Pete” seems most appropriate for the man wearing a V-neck sweater, houndstooth-checked wool jacket, and cap—cane close by—one of many in his beautiful collection. He’s quite approachable even though he has tooted his horn before presidents and a pope.
Written by Byron Miller, CSsR