Frances Fernandez
Jazz Club President
By Keith Spera
Saturday June 07, 2003

Frances McKinnie "Memaw" Fernandez, the longtime president of the New Orleans Jazz Club and a tireless advocate of traditional jazz, died Wednesday, June 4, 2003 of cancer at East Jefferson General Hospital. She was 79. 
Born in Bolivar, Tenn., Ms. Fernandez developed a love for traditional jazz at an early age. In the 1940s, she and her husband moved to Edgard, Louisiana. After her husband's death in the 1960s, she moved to New Orleans and plunged headlong into the jazz community.
In 1978, she joined the board of the New Orleans Jazz Club and logged 16 years as its president. Founded in 1948, the New Orleans Jazz Club, among the oldest jazz societies in the country, seeks to preserve and promote traditional jazz.
Though its public profile has declined in recent decades, Ms. Fernandez kept the organization active. It still boasted more than 1,000 members worldwide when it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1998. To mark the milestone, Ms. Fernandez helped recruit famed artist George Rodrigue to create a Blue Dog silk-screen print. She also spearheaded the creation of the venerable institution's first Web site.

For many years the Jazz Club has sponsored a jazz jam session on the last Sunday of every month at the Landmark Hotel in Metairie, in part to give amateur musicians the opportunity to interact with more experienced players.

Tim Laughlin, considered one of the city's finest traditional jazz clarinetists, first attended a Jazz Club jam session 20 years ago at the outset of his professional career. At one such Landmark session, Ms. Fernandez introduced him to a promising 16-year-old piano player named Harry Connick Jr.  "The Jazz Club took me in and supported me," Laughlin said. "(Ms. Fernandez) was like a second mom to me."
The Jazz Club's phone rang at Ms. Fernandez's home. She was an invaluable resource for both out-of-town promoters looking for New Orleans jazz

musicians and local bandleaders seeking musicians. In the summer of 2001, Ms. Fernandez recommended Laughlin to a promoter in Paraguay, leading to what may have been the first-ever tour of that South American country by a New Orleans jazz band.
"Wherever there was jazz music, there was Frances," Laughlin said. "She would do anything to help promote younger musicians, and she truly loved the music."
In 1988, she helped organize the hundreds of jazz musicians and second-liners who performed during the opening of the Republican National Convention. She was involved in the successful effort to persuade the U.S. Postal Service to issue a commemorative Louis Armstrong stamp. In 1996, Ms. Fernandez was appointed to a 16-member citizens' commission formed to oversee creation and operation of the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park.

In addition to her work with the Jazz Club, Ms. Fernandez also volunteered for a variety of organizations, including the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Lioness Club and the Jerry Lewis Telethon.
"The music keeps you going, it keeps you young," she said in 1998. "Why do you think these musicians live so long? It's the music they're playing, that so many people enjoy. It all comes back to the music."
Survivors include three sons, Earl, Richard and Wayne Fernandez; a daughter, Sharon Anderson; a sister, Jetty Ahrens; four grandchildren; and two great-