Legendary Locals of Metairie

The Assuntos - Dukes of Dixieland

This website contains excerpts along with some of the 172 photographs in Legendary Locals of Metairie (Arcadia Publishing, 2013) by Catherine Campanella.
Use the links here to explore a sample of the book -- or purchase it for an in-depth view.


In 1946 teenage brothers Frank and Fred Assunto began playing professionally, often with a young Pete Fountain, at Mama Lou's camp/restaurant on Lake Pontchartrain. The following year they began, depending upon the number of musicians playing, to call themselves the Basin Street Four, Five or Six.

Under the name The Junior Dixie Band, they performed each month at Doc Souchon's New Orleans Jazz Club meetings (Frank's son Deano is now the club's vice president) and in the1949 played at the New Orleans Jazz festival where they first used the name Dukes of Dixieland. In 1950 the Dukes began a 3 1/2 year gig as the house band at Bourbon Street's Famous Door. Their first professional recording was "Cooking with Gas" (1951) contracted for a NOPSI commercial.

While still in high school Fred met 14 year-old Betty (The Duchess) Owens who became the band's singer and his wife. This 1955 postcard from drummer Roger Johnston mailed from Chicago gives us a glimpse into their budding fame as a nationally known local band. It is addressed to "Dr. Edmond Souchon; 523 Betz Place; Metarie; Louisiana" and reads (on the back) "Hi Doc, We're really packing them in here. They really go for that good old New Orleans jazz. They don't want us to leave here; but Las Vegas wants us there. - Roger" Pictured left to right in 1950 are Frank Assunto on the trumpet, Bill Shea on the clarinet, Fred Assunto on the trombone, and Artie Seelig, Jr. on the piano during a rehearsal at the Assuntos'; home.

Fred and Frank's father Jacinto “Papa Jac” Assunto joined the band when Betty took leave to start a new generation of the Assunto family. In 1956 the Dukes became the first jazz band to record in stereo on Audio Fidelity Records. They appeared on national television, toured internationally, performed and recorded with Louis Armstrong, and played at Carnegie Hall in 1959.

After Fred died 1966 at age 36 in Las Vegas Frank donated his brother's trombone to the New Orleans Jazz Museum. By 1969 the extended family moved back home to Metairie and the Dukes became regulars at Al Hirt's club. Frank passed away in 1974 at the age of 42 and for the first time in the Onward Brass Band's 90-year history they honored a white musician by playing at his funeral. Papa Jac passed away in 1985 at age 79. Betty followed in 2006. She was 72 years old. (LDL)

Other books by Catherine Campanella:

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book is dedicated to the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation's efforts to rebuild and maintain the historic New Canal Lighthouse.

Excerpts from New Orleans City Park  (Images of America).

Contact Catherine Campanella