Wardell Quezergue (March 12, 1930 – September 6, 2011) was an American music arranger, producer and bandleader, known among New Orleans musicians as the “Creole Beethoven”. Wardell was born into a musical family with his father, Sidney Quezergue Sr., being a guitar player. Wardell was the second youngest of three brothers: Sidney Quezergue Jr., Leo Quezergue, and Arlen Quezergue. His oldest two brothers, Sidney (Trumpet) and Leo (Drums), were jazz musicians as well.
After playing with Dave Bartholomew’s band from the late 1940s and serving as an army musician in Korea, he emerged as a bandleader in his own right in the mid-1950s with his Royal Dukes of Rhythm. He also worked as an arranger with the cream of New Orleans musicians, including Professor Longhair and Fats Domino.
In 1964, he formed Nola Records, and Robert Parker’s “Barefootin’” from the label reached number 2 on the R&B chart. Other artists on the label include Eddie Bo, Willie Tee and Smokey Johnson. Later, he recorded King Floyd’s “Groove Me” and Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff”. Stax eventually released "Mr Big Stuff", and it became the biggest selling, most successful release on the Stax label (currently over 3 million copies), outselling Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and the other Stax acts.
"Groove Me" was released on the Chimneyville label, a huge hit (King Floyd's biggest), and was covered by artists as diverse as Etta James and Tom Petty. Quezergue was also the keyboardist on both hits. Quezergue arranged and produced Dorothy Moore's "Misty Blue", which "crossed over" and also became the label's (Malaco) biggest seller.
At the same time, Wardell was charting, at Berry Gordy's request, stage arrangement for Stevie Wonder and other Motown acts.
As a result of these successes, Quezergue’s skills as an arranger, and Malaco’s studios, became in demand in the 1970s, and were used by artists as diverse as Paul Simon, Willie Nelson and B. B. King. He also worked with G.C. Cameron, former lead singer of The Spinners ("It's A Shame") and The Temptations, the Pointer Sisters, and many more.
Quezergue also produced and arranged the Grammy Award-winning Dr. John album Goin' Back to New Orleans in 1992. Already an award winning classical composer and conductor, in 2000 he created an extended composition entitled "A Creole Mass", drawing on his experiences in the Korean War.
In 2005, Wardell was awarded "Best Produced CD of the Year"(by the NY Blues and Jazz society) for his first sessions with singer-songwriter Will Porter.
In 2005, by now legally blind, he lost most of his belongings as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The following year, benefit concerts were held in his behalf, led by Dr. John, with support from other leading musicians, including REM’s Mike Mills.
In May 2009, Wardell Quezergue received an honorary doctorate from Loyola University New Orleans. On July 19, 2009, a tribute was mounted to Wardell Quezergue at the Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. Quezergue showed everyone that he still had it, as he conducted the whole concert.
In 2011 Quezergue finished work on what he called his "two most important works"; his classical religious work "The Passion" and the sophomore recording for Will Porter.