Blue Notes

Houston Music Hall of Famer Creole Joe Sample Is On a New Mission

Joe Sample is on a mission. While the illustrious keyboard genius behind the Crusaders continues to expand his career and is as in-demand at 75 as at any point in his life, these days he balances his commercial career with good works.

Inducted into the Houston Music Hall of Fame's inaugural class at last month's Houston Press Music Awards, Sample just released a new recording with his Creole Joe Band (see video below), a zydeco project that is dear to his heart. He test-drove the project earlier this year on some dates in Japan, then debuted the band in the U.S. a couple weeks back at Dosey Doe in The Woodlands before heading to New York City, where crowds at the Blue Note exceeded Sample's expectations.

Those who read the Houston Press' cover story on Sample's return to his alma mater, Texas Southern University, already know he spends a portion of his year teaching and developing upcoming talent. Sample's charity work is less visible, but is another important element in his division of labor.

This Saturday night, Sample brings his augmented ensemble to Galveston's Grand 1894 Opera House for his annual Henriette DeLille Legacy Concert; proceeds benefit his 503-C charity, the Joe Sample Youth Organization. Rocks Off caught up with Sample at the tail end of the Creole Joe East Coast tour in Annapolis, Maryland.

Rocks Off: What does the money from your show Saturday benefit? Joe Sample: It benefits three Catholic churches here in Houston that are dear to my heart.

How did it start? When I moved back here in 1999, I was so saddened to see what had become of the small Catholic schools that I was educated in and to the various churches in the wards. I grew up in Fifth Ward, and I was educated by nuns at Our Mother of Mercy.

These were nuns sent out from an order in New Orleans that originated with Sister Henriette DeLille. These black nuns taught at Our Mother of Mercy. It wasn't until years later I learned that they taught for free, that they weren't paid.

And it was a high-quality education? Listen, I was so well schooled by these nuns, when I went to public school in ninth grade they had me skip a grade I was so well prepared. You have to understand, these nuns did such a great job with me, I entered TSU in 1955 when I was only 16. That's how good the teaching was.

RO: So what led you to form the charity? When I came back home in 1999, I began to get back in touch with the church where I had grown up. By that time, the school had been shut down because it was one of the poorest performing schools in the state. I eventually learned that they no longer had nuns teaching for free, that no new nuns were coming into the convent, so they eventually just couldn't afford to hire the good teachers or to keep up their facilities. I can't tell you how much this bothered me.

Not long after I got back, a man at St. Mary's in the Third Ward said, "Why don't you do a benefit?" So I organized a jam in the cafeteria and it made about $1,800. So word got around and other people started coming to me. 'Why don't you do a benefit for this church, why don't you do one for this other church?'

So I thought it over and said that I would do one major benefit event each year and the money would be split among three local churches. So in five years, we've been able to raise a quarter million dollars. We've developed some playgrounds, bought equipment. We built a kitchen at one school, developed some walkways so kids could change classes without going out into the rain, fixed a roof [and] added some air-conditioning. Nuts-and-bolts stuff schools and kids need, you know?

More with Creole Joe on the next page.

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William Michael Smith