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)