Was inducted into Louisiana Music Hall of Fame after 65-year career
Paul Ferrara, a drummer who played with Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt and other greats during a 65-year career, died Wednesday at his home in Kenner. He was 76.
Ferrara had been battling cancer for the past year, according to his family. Despite his illness, Ferrara continued to perform, even making an appearance at this year's Gretna Heritage Festival.
Born in the French Quarter to Sicilian immigrant parents, Ferrara began playing drums at the age of 11, according to a video posted for his induction into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
Ferrara was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009, one of only two "side men" to receive such honor.
As a teenager, he also played with George Girard, the Assunto brothers, Earl Williams, and Sam Butera, who later became Prima's saxophonist.
Like Prima and Butera, Ferrara's music career later took him to Las Vegas, where he was a regular performer from the 1950s through the 1970s.
Ferrara's distinctive drum sound can be heard on two versions of classic Prima recordings: "Sing Sing Sing" and "Old Black Magic."
In a 2010 interview with WYES-TV for "Steppin' Out," Ferrara recalled the familiar drumbeat introduction to "Old Black Magic," which he helped create on the spur of the moment.
"Louis said 'Hey, boys,' let's see what we can do with this tune,'" Ferrara recalled. "Everybody contributed something and then I said, 'Why don't we start with like a jazz mambo beat?' Then Louis said, 'Hey, that's good boy! Let's keep that in!'"
In all, Ferrara would record some 30 songs with Prima.
Among the other music greats he performed with over the years are Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holliday. Later in his career, Ferrara also performed for four U.S. presidents at the White House. He also played frequently at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
As an Italian-American musician, he was part of the last generation of New Orleans jazz musicians who not only played with 1920s legends such as Santo Pecora and Sharkey Bonano, but was also part of the jazz revival of the 1960s and early 1970s.
His distinct drumming style, which included the mastery of the left handed shuffle, can be heard on hundreds of recordings, and could be seen in television appearances on such programs as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Dinah Shore Show.
Survivors include his wife of 54 years, and 5 daughters.
Funeral services will be held on Saturday with visitation from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, 1908 Short Street, Kenner. A funeral Mass will follow at 12:30 p.m. Burial will be at St. Joseph Abbey Cemetery in Covington.