NEW ORLEANS, La. (WWL-TV) – Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr., who with his wife Leah built his family restaurant , Dooky Chase’s, into a New Orleans landmark, died Tuesday. He was 88.
Mr. Chase’s daughter, Stella Reese, said her father died Tuesday afternoon. Late Tuesday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu tweeted his condolences, calling Mr. Chase “patriarch of a great New Orleans family.”
Born in New Orleans, Mr. Chase was the second child of Edgar Lawrence “Dooky” Sr, and Emily Tennette Chase, who in 1939 opened the Treme sandwich shop that is now known as a shrine to Creole cuisine. Mr. Chase’s wife Leah, who remains a daily presence in the restaurant’s kitchen well into her 90s, has earned every award imaginable and just last year won a lifetime achievement award from the James Beard Foundation. She is known the world over for her brand of New Orleans cuisine as well as for her involvement in the community.
According to the restaurant website, Mr. Chase and his sister Doris worked closely with their parents and assisted with the operations of the family business. Mr. Chase delivered sandwiches throughout the neighborhood as a young man.
While his family is known for food, Mr. Chase’s true love was music. He came from a musical family and began playing himself at an early age. He nurtured his interest in jazz as a trumpeter in the Joseph Craig Elementary School Band and later the Booker T. Washington High School Band. He would in time establish the Dooky Chase Orchestra, which included his sister Doris Chase as vocalist.
During one of his performances in 1945 at a Mardi Gras ball, Mr. Chase met his future wife, Leah Lange. They married in 1946 and she would join him in running the restaurant with their four children: Emily, Stella, Edgar “Dooky” III and Leah.
Mr. Chase’s orchestra performed throughout the city and the southeast during the 1940s. Dooky Jr. also became the treasurer of the local Musicians Union. The band stopped performing in 1949 as the big band era came to an end but Mr. Chase remained involved in the entertainment business. His connections to musicians such as Ray Charles and Quincy Jones kept them and other notables, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lena Horne and Nat King Cole, coming to the family’s restaurant.
The Chases have also been lauded for their role in the Civil Rights movement, offering the restaurant as a meeting spot and refuge for community organizers as well as launching voter registration efforts. Mr. Chase was also the first African American to co-promote a musical concert that was held in the Municipal Auditorium. Billed as “The Greatest Show of 1949,” its lineup included Duke Ellington and his full orchestra.
The concert was enjoyed by a racially mixed audience during the era of segregation.
Mr. Chase served as Vice President of the New Orleans Tourist Commission from 1978 to 1983, was a board member of the Jazz and Heritage Festival and served as a member of the committee for the 1984 World’s Fair .
Funeral arrangements are pending.