EDGAR LAWRENCE “DOOKY” CHASE JR.
Edgar Lawrence “Dooky” Chase Jr. was born on March 23, 1928, in New Orleans. The second child of Edgar Lawrence “Dooky” and Emily Tennette Chase, Sr. The Chase family was reared in strong faith with an innovative entrepreneurial drive and passion for music. Dooky, Jr. at a very early aged began to cultivate his love for music by singing and playing along with his mother as she played the piano, an uncle as he played the violin and guitar and whimsically with his father, Dooky Sr. as he whistled masterful tunes.
Dooky Jr’s parents were generous people who thrived off the strong sense of community, culture and family traditions that ran through the 5th, 6th and 7th Ward Neighborhoods of New Orleans, our beloved Historic Faubourg Tremé. Dooky Sr. a lottery vendor along with his wife, Emily, was able to put some money aside, sixty dollars, to open their Sandwich Shop in 1939 were they sold lottery tickets, po’boy sandwiches and other dishes that were local favorites. Emily who acquired her culinary skills from her father, Emile Tennette, a creole chef and owner of the first black creole restaurant in New Orleans, Tennette & Montegut, located on North Claiborne Avenue from 1933 to 1935. In 1941, Dooky Chase Restaurant opened its doors at the present location on 2301 Orleans Avenue. The Chases in a Louisiana Weekly article stated “this place is dedicated to the fun-loving people of our great city who are desirous of enjoying good food and drinks where there is always good order.”
Dooky Jr. and his sister Doris worked closely with their parents and assisted with the operations of the family business. Dooky Jr. delivered sandwiches throughout the neighborhood and priding himself on building his own personal relationships with the community. Remaining passionate about becoming a jazz musician, Dooky Jr. continued to foster his trumpeting skills that he began while in the Joseph Craig Elementary School Band and began to fashion his musical skills while playing in the Booker T Washington High School Band. He would in time establish the Dooky Chase Orchestra, furthering his family’s relationships in the community and their contributions to dining and entertainment.
The Dooky Chase Orchestra, that also included Dooky Jr.’s sister Doris Chase as vocalist, performed throughout the city and the southeast region during the 1940s. Dooky Jr. known for his keen band management skills became the Musicians Union’s treasurer and was able to raise the pay scale to support musician’s abilities to support their families.
During one of his performances in 1945, at a Mardi Gras Ball that was held at a Labor Union Hall, Dooky Jr. and Leah Lange met and in 1946 the pair would marry. Leah would later join him in operating the restaurant when their four children, Emily, Stella, Edgar “Dooky” III, and Leah were all of school age.
The Dooky Chase Orchestra had its last performance in 1949, as the big band era was coming to an end. Dooky Jr. still had a strong desire to stay connected to the entertainment industry, became an entertainment promoter from which he developed a life long relationship with Ray Charles and Qunicy Jones. The restaurant would naturally serve as host to several entertainers including Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, Nat King Cole, and countless others over time.
Dooky Jr. took control of the business along with his mother following the passing of his father in 1957. Dooky Sr. was a people’s person, a parade marcher who helped to fashion the second line umbrella, and a gambler who was loved by his friends and followers. His funeral was noted to have one of the largest funeral processions of that time. Dooky Jr., his wife Leah and mother Emily worked tireless together operating the restaurant around the clock as the restaurant warmly served costumers into the early morning hours of the following day. Emily Tennette Chase was a gracious hostess until her passing in 1995.
Dooky Jr. played a vital role in the Civil Rights movement as he, along with others canvased various neighborhoods across the community registering households to vote. He also spoke out on radio encouraging every individual to register to vote, jeopardizing the safety family business. He would continue his efforts as an active member of the NAACP. Dooky Chase Restaurant went on to provide a safe place for individuals of all ethnic communities to meet and discuss strategies for the Civil Rights Movement. Iconic Civil Rights Leaders such as Oretha Castle Haley, A.P. Tureaud, Ernest “Dutch” Morial, Rev. Andrew Young, Revius Ortique, Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. all gathered to have pivotal discussions over a bowl of gumbo in the safety of the walls of the Upstairs Dining Room.
Dooky Jr. continued his community involvement as he served as Vice President of the New Orleans Tourist Commission in 1978 – 1983 under the direction of Ed McNeil, was a board member of the Jazz and Heritage Festival during its formative years, served as a member of the committee for the 1984 World Fair and his promotion of the over all inclusive spirit of music and entertainment, art and dining across the City of New Orleans.Edgar "Dooky" Chase, Jr., available at http://www.flickr.com , March 26th, 2009.