By Lolis Eric Elie
Knowing I’d be interviewing Clarence "Frogman" Henry, I asked my mother if she could tell me anything about him. I thought she’d remember some song she particularly liked, or some dance or some night club where he performed. Turns out what she remembered was a talent show at L.B. Landry Senior High School in Algiers many decades ago. She did a recitation. Clarence sang. You can guess who won: The singer.
Not many years after that, Clarence Henry was recording"Ain't Got No Home" and making his way up to No. 3 on the Billboard R&B chart and No. 20 on the pop chart. It was from that performance and its frog-like vocal stylings that the Frogman got the nickname that would stick. That song has also stuck, but it wasn’t the last time a song by the singer would make its way up the charts. In 1961, "But I Do" made it up to No.4 and "You Always Hurt the One You Love" made the Top 20. On the strength of such hits, he was the opening act for the Beatles for several weeks on their first U.S. tour.
Frogman was in residence for 20 years on Bourbon Street, back in those long ago days when there was a lot of good, live, local music in the French Quarter. He's since retired from performing, but his music lives on. You can hear it in a lot of unexpected places, from 'Forrest Gump' to the 'Rush Limbaugh Show.'
I was born in the city part of New Orleans in the 7th Ward. And I was going to a music teacher, Miss Jones, on Columbus and North Claiborne streets. We moved into Algiers in 1948. What happened was I was banging on the piano at L. B. Landry and the bandleader Mr. Houston asked me to play trombone. He put me in the band and I didn't even know how to hold a trombone. I played third trombone when I joined the band. Then for three years I played first trombone. I used to play that song by Paul Gayten called “Ooh-Boo" and when I played that, look like the football team would start winning.