In Memoriam: Walter "Wolfman" Washington

Published on: December 23rd, 2022

Walter Wolfman Washington - WWOZ Guardian of the Groove

Walter Wolfman Washington - WWOZ Guardian of the Groove
Walter Wolfman Washington - WWOZ Guardian of the Groove

Walter "Wolfman" Washington has died of cancer at the age of 79. Well-known for his trademark howl and his performances with his band, The Roadmasters, Wolfman combined blues, R&B, funk, and soul on stages throughout the New Orleans for decades.

Washington got his start with the choir of the New Home Missionary Baptist Church on Jackson Avenue, later teaching himself guitar. At 19, he began backing some of New Orleans' biggest names at the time, including Irma Thomas, Lee Dorsey, and Johnny Adams. His 16 years in Adams' band included an eight-year stretch of legendary Saturday night gigs at Dorothy’s Medallion Lounge on Orleans Avenue. At Dorothy’s, the show started at 3am and went till dawn. Washington backed Adams on a numer of albums for Rounder Records before launching the Roadmasters in the 1980s. Their first album, Leader of the Pack, was released in 1981.

Wolfman and his band held weekly gigs at some of New Orleans' most seminal nightclubs, including the Maple Leaf, Benny's Blues Bar, and d.b.a. Washington injected new life into his career in recent years with a new album in 2018, My Future Is My Past, produced by Galactic saxophonist Ben Ellman, launching a trio alongside pianist Joe Krown, recording a duet with Irma Thomas, and recording another, yet-to-be-released album. 

"For the last six or seven years, Walter got the recognition he deserved," Wolfman's manager Adam Shipley told "He put out some great music, and had a great life." In 2019, he reigned as the king of Krewe du Vieux, riding alongside his queen, longtime girlfriend Michelle Bushey, whom he married at Tipitina's in 2021.

In March 2022, Washington received his cancer diagnosis. He continued to perform as he underwent chemotherapy and radiation, appearing at French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest. A September 29 appearance at Bogalusa Blues & Heritage Fest turned out to be his final onstage performance.

Visitation will be held at Jacob Schoen & Son Funeral Home on Canal St. on Januiary 4 from 8am-12pm, followed by a funeral service at 2pm. A benefit concert to help with medical and funeral expenses is planned for January 8 at Tipitina’s. And on Saturday, May 13, Wolfman Fest will celebrate the renaming of Alcée Fortier Park, located at 3100 Esplanade Ave., to Wolfman Park. Treme Brass Band will kick things off with a second line at 3:30pm. Appearances by The Roadmasters, Christian Duque, Mem Shannon, Les Getrex, Deacon John, and other special guests will follow.

WWOZ sends our best wishes to Walter's family and friends at this difficult time.


Below, find video from Wolfman's appearance at the virtual 2020 Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival and at Basin Street Station for WWOZ's New Orleans Calling in 2015, some of our favorite photos of him, links to features WWOZ produced about him over the years, and more.

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