Death and music

The New York Times profiles Frank Minyard, a 76-year old New Orleans coroner known for marching in funeral processions wearing a white suit and plays jazz the trumpet.

At 76, on the brink of a retirement that was supposed to combine oyster dinners at his favorite restaurants with a simple life on his cattle farm on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, Dr. Minyard has found himself living in an R.V. on the grounds of a temporary federal morgue in St. Gabriel, a small town just outside Baton Rouge, grappling with the still-increasing death toll, the bewildering red tape and the urgent calls of bereaved families.

In the kind of twist that might strike New Orleanians as perfectly natural, their coroner began his medical career as an obstetrician. Before that, he was a tall, blue-eyed pretty boy: a lifeguard in the summers and, once, second runner-up in a Mr. New Orleans bodybuilding contest. During medical school, he said, he spent his summers in New York City giving “nightlife tours.”

By the late 1960’s, Dr. Minyard had a successful practice, a family, a tennis court and a swimming pool, beside which he was sitting one day when he heard Peggy Lee singing, “Is that all there is?”

“Prior to that I was very selfish, like most young doctors and lawyers and dentists,” said Dr. Minyard, who gave up his private medical practice soon after he became coroner. “I was just trying to get the Cadillac and the country club membership.”

However inexpert his playing, Dr. Minyard became devoted to jazz, and soon he was sitting in with the venerated Olympia Brass Band and hiring musicians as morgue assistants to help them make ends meet. In his first year as coroner, he was arrested while playing in the French Quarter to protest a crackdown on street musicians.

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