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PASSINGS

Willie Tee, 63; versatile New Orleans musician, singer and songwriter

September 12, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Willie Tee, 63, a New Orleans keyboardist, singer and songwriter who melded pop, R&B, jazz, funk and Indian street music into a signature blend, died Tuesday at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans, his daughter, Racquel Turbinton Bruno, said. He was diagnosed with colon cancer a few weeks ago.

He was born Wilson Turbinton in New Orleans on Feb. 6, 1944. His father played the trombone, his mother sang and his older brother, Earl, played the saxophone.

After changing his name to Willie Tee in the early 1960s for commercial purposes, he recorded pop songs for Atlantic Records. He had modest success with "Teasin' You" and "Walking Up a One-Way Street," and "Thank You John" became a Carolina beach music classic.

In the 1970s, he moved away from pop to jazz, then switched to a harder, funkier sound with the Gaturs. With the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indian group, he helped popularize a musical genre that fused regional sounds into a funky, exotic mix.

After his house in the Lakeview section of New Orleans was destroyed by flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he moved to Baton Rouge, La. He also was a scholar in residence at Princeton University in 2006, teaching jazz in the music department.

Along with an all-star lineup of New Orleans musical groups, including the Meters and the Nevilles, he contributed to the New Orleans Social Club's album to benefit victims of Katrina.

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