Billie and Dede Pierce
Dede and Billie Pierce were a New Orleans traditional jazz and blues duo who performed at Preservation Hall.
Dede (pronounced “DEE-dee” and often spelled “DeDe” or “Dee Dee”) and Billie Pierce were a New Orleans traditional jazz and blues duo. Born Joseph LaCroix Pierce and Wilhelmina Goodson, this endearing cornetist/trumpeter/vocalist and pianist/vocalist couple hold a special place in the annals of New Orleans jazz history. Both musicians were popular in their separate early careers: Billie had played piano with Bessie Smith, and Dede was an admired Creole singer and trumpeter. After their marriage and many decades of playing together, they had faded from public view until the years leading up to the opening of Preservation Hall, when the duo experienced a great resurgence in popularity.
Dede Pierce was born on February 18, 1904, in New Orleans. From a musical Creole family, he learned trumpet from Professor Paul Chaligny and Kid Rena. Among Dede’s first professional gigs was a stint with Arnold DePass’s band in the mid-1920s, and Dede soon became recognized as a proficient trumpeter. He further distinguished himself through his vocal talents, and he often sang many songs of the local French Creole repertoire, including the locally popular standard, “Eh, La Bas.”
Billie Goodson was born on June 8, 1907, in Marianna, Florida. Her parents played piano, though they forbade their daughters from playing “profane” music. Perhaps because they were only allowed to play spirituals in their household, Billie and her five musical sisters—Ida, Mabel, Della, Sadie, and Edna—ended up playing blues and jazz in clubs along the Gulf Coast, in New Orleans, and abroad. At fifteen years old, Billie, who already enjoyed a local reputation as a gifted pianist, was given the opportunity to sit in for two weeks at a Pensacola theater for classic blues singer Bessie Smith’s regular pianist, Clarence Williams, who was sick. Smith’s vocal style would influence Billie’s singing for the remainder of her career.
In 1929 Billie came to New Orleans to temporarily replace her elder sister, Sadie Goodson Peterson Colar, in Buddy Petit’s band for a gig on the steamer Madison. Sadie encouraged Billie to stay in New Orleans; during the Depression, Billie performed as a barrelhouse pianist in the rowdy bars along Decatur Street and played with Mack’s Merrymakers and other touring vaudeville groups. While playing with George Lewis during one of her New Orleans gigs, Billie met Dede Pierce, who had just joined the band. Billie and Dede were married on March 28, 1935.
Though Dede would play many brass band gigs over the years, he and Billie mostly performed together throughout the remainder of their careers. Their longest engagement lasted for more than a decade at the New Orleans dance hall Luthjen’s, where they played with many notable talents, including Alphonse Picou, “Big Eye” Louis Nelson Delille, and Emile and Paul Barnes.
In the 1950s both musicians suffered ill health, and Dede lost his eyesight. Despite these setbacks, the couple stepped back into the limelight and began to enjoy widespread recognition and success in the years leading up to the opening of Preservation Hall. Many recording sessions soon followed, as the Pierces recorded for the Folklyric, Jazzology, Riverside, and American Music labels. They also did a 1962 recording session with George Lewis on Atlantic. The last decade of the Pierces’ lives was spent recording, touring, and playing to adoring audiences, both home in New Orleans and throughout the world.
Dede Pierce died on November 23, 1973, in New Orleans. Billie Pierce died in New Orleans on September 29, 1974.