"Sweet Emma" Barrett (born March 25, 1897 in New Orleans, Louisiana; died January 28, 1983) was a self-taught jazz pianist and singer who worked with the Original Tuxedo Orchestra between 1923 and 1936, first under Papa Celestin, then William Ridgely.
Also active with Armand Piron, John Robichaux and Sidney Desvigne.
Sweet Emma Barrett, who was at her most powerful in the early '60s, became a symbolic figure with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
In 1947, she accepted a steady job at a local club, Happy Landing, but it was her 1961 recording debut, with her own album in Riverside Records "New Orleans: The Living Legends" series, that brought her recognition from beyond the Crescent City.
According to this album's liner notes, these are her first recording performances as a vocalist Called "Bell Gal," because she wore a red skull cap and garters with Christmas bells that jingled in time with her music.
She was pictured on the cover of Glamour magazine and written up on both sides of the Atlantic, and when the Preservation Hall Jazz Band began to hit the road, she took it on international tours.
Sweet Emma toured in the U.S., including a stint at Disneyland in 1963.
Despite the exposure she received at concerts and overseas appearances, Sweet Emma continued to feel most comfortable in her own New Orleans, especially the French Quarter.
In 1963, her album The Bell Gal And Her Dixieland Boys Music, as a leader, Barrett heads two overlapping groups.
While she is joined throughout by banjoist Emanuel Sayles, bassist Placide Adams and drummer Paul Barbarin, four songs featuring trumpeter Alvin Alcorn, trombonist Jim Robinson and clarinetist Louis Cottrell, Jr.; the remaining four numbers have trumpeter Don Albert, trombonist Frog Joseph and clarinetist Raymond Burke.
Overall, this set gives listeners a good sampling of the state of New Orleans jazz circa 1963 and is one of the few recordings of Barrett mostly without the regular members of what would become the Preservation Hall Jazz Band .
The ensemble-oriented renditions of such numbers as "Big Butter and Egg Man," "Bogalusa Strut" and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" are fun and joyful.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, with Emma Barrett as vocalist and pianist (including a close-up of her), made a brief appearance in the 1965 film, The Cincinnati Kid.In 1967, she suffered a stroke that paralyzed her left side, but she continued to work and occasionally record until her death in 1983.