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Fud at 100: the mayor reflects on a jazz ancestor

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Fud at 100

Mayor John Tecklenburg (center) plays what he believes was his Great-uncle Joseph “Fud” Livingston’s couesnophone, also known as a “goofus,” as Karen Chandler and Larry Blumenfeld look on. (Photo by Dara McBride)

Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe and Tony Bennett are on the long list of performers who have covered the jazz standard “I’m Thru with Love.”

But the songwriter, Charleston native Joseph “Fud” Livingston, hasn’t received much recognition. Now, more than 100 years after his birth, the local legend is getting some well-deserved attention, thanks in part to a notable local relative.

“What I heard about Uncle Fud was that he was the black sheep of the family,” Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, Livingston’s great nephew, said Sunday during a Spoleto Festival USA Jazz Talk. It wasn’t until later, while Tecklenburg was studying at Berkeley College of Music, that he realized how far his uncle’s repertoire extended.

Tecklenburg shared his memories and tunes while talking with historian Karen Chandler, co-founder of the Charleston Jazz Initiative, and music critic Larry Blumenfeld as part of “Fud at 100” at the Simons Center Recital Hall. Livingston’s work will also be featured Tuesday, when his music is played at the Spoleto Celebration Concert at the Gaillard Center.

Charleston doesn’t typically come to mind when thinking about the jazz capital of the U.S., but there’s a rich history here — and it goes back to Livingston's era.

“Fud stood tall against amazing Jazz modernists,” Blumenfeld said.

Livingston — whose nickname came from a sister mispronouncing the word brother as “fudder” growing up — got his start as a student at The Citadel. But his education was short lived and he followed his older brother Walter “Toots” into the professional jazz world.

He found success, playing and arranging music for Ben Pollack, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman and Bing Crosby. His songs include “Feelin’ No Pain,” “Humpty Dumpty” and “Imagination.”

Chandler, who heard "I'm Thru with Love" as a teenager, said she never would have guessed the song would catch up with her later in life in a conversation with the city’s mayor.

"What's interesting and really fulfilling is to have grown up with these tunes and then start a jazz project that delves deeper into who the composers and the arrangers were," Chandler said.

The Charleston Jazz Initiative, which launched publicly in 2005, is a multi-year research project that documents the African-American jazz tradition in Charleston. But when Tecklenburg approached Chandler with his family connection, she said she was eager to learn more.

"He is Uncle Fud to me and to the Charleston Jazz Initiative," Chandler said.

Before the evening was over, the lecture turned into a concert. First, the mayor performed on a couesnophone, which he found in his family storage and believes was owned by Uncle Fud. He ended with a version of “I’m Thru With Love” at the piano. The performance earned a standing ovation.

"I am going to keep my day job, though — I hope," Tecklenburg said with a laugh.

Dara McBride is a Goldring Arts Journalist at Syracuse University. Goldring Arts Journalist Hailey Clark contributed to this report.

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