Davell Crawford celebrates friends, family and good health

Photo by Branden Piper -- Davell Crawford
Photo by Branden Piper -- Davell Crawford

RIGHT at HOME

There’s a 14-year gap between Davell Crawford’s lavish new album, “My Gift To You,” and his previous release, 1999’s “Love Like Yours and Mine.”

The time between the production of the two albums is even longer. Crawford recorded both “Love Like Yours and Mine” and his 1998 release, “The B-3 & Me,” in 1996.

The gifted grandson of James “Sugarboy” Crawford (whose “Jock-A-Mo” is a Mardi Gras music classic), Crawford quietly withdrew from performing in 1999.

“I needed a break from music,” said the singer-keyboardist, who grew up in New Orleans and Lafayette. “I also wanted a break from the public life.”

Beyond his exhaustion, Crawford had developed a medical condition that threatened his singing: tumors on his vocal cords. Nonetheless, he was reluctant to stop performing, partly because he’d released “Love Like Yours and Mine” in May 1999.

“I really wanted to go on the road but I realized I couldn’t sing,” Crawford said. “And everyone was so happy that I was coming to the Essence Festival! I said, ‘Oh, God, what am I gonna do?’ And I was only able to do 20 minutes at the festival. I had to leave the stage.”

Crawford’s abbreviated Essence appearance taught him a difficult but needed lesson, one he can laugh about now.

“I learned to tell people when I’m sick!” he said.

Finding the courage to go through with the surgery was another challenge.

“I made my living with my voice and my hands,” he said. “It was a big emotional battle for me to let someone cut on my throat. It took me about a year before I decided to have the surgery.”

Needing time to rest and heal, Crawford left performing to teach at St. Mary of the Angels School in the Ninth Ward. He started an enrichment program there that benefited students and local musicians he hired to participate.

Crawford was performing in Brazil in August 2005, scheduled to return to New Orleans on Aug. 29. When the flood that followed Hurricane Katrina destroyed St. Mary of the Angels, he was set adrift.

By the time Crawford made his way home, he found his apartment ransacked and his studio in the Ninth Ward flattened. Exiled in South Carolina, he joined forces with some other displaced musicians, Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown and Bill Summers.

“I asked Leon, ‘Do you have your trumpet?’ He said, ‘Yeah, that’s all I have.’ I said, ‘Well, I have my fingers. It’s easier to make some money on the road being a piano player from New Orleans and a trumpet player from New Orleans than any other thing in the world. We have something to say.’ ”

Following a decade-plus break between albums, Crawford also had much to say in “My Gift To You.” Recorded in New Orleans and Acadiana, the grandly realized 15-song collection is rich with Louisiana guest stars and representative of Crawford’s eclectic reach.

“After 14 years of living quietly, it’s only fair that I give people a nice bit of myself,” he said. “Some people think that I’m a mystery. I think I’m just a quiet person and artist. But I wanted to answer some of the questions that people have asked me for many years. I answered them in the music and the liner notes and the production, as much as I could.”

His “My Gift To You” guests include Dr. John, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Donald Harrison Jr., Nicholas Payton, Big Freedia, the Davell Crawford Singers, Cajun musician Steve Riley and many more.

“We’ve got a great cast of my friends and my family,” he said. “I wanted this record to be about Louisiana and New Orleans. I’m celebrating my friends, my people and my culture.”