McDonogh #35 Yearbook- 1932
Osceola Blanchet was the second of five children born to Louis and Hattie Blanchet. He was born on May 23, 1902 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The son of a mail carrier who was also a pharmacist, Blanchet lived at 1919 North Johnson Street with his three brothers; Louis, Cleolus and Waldo, plus one sister, Zelda Blanchet.
Osceola attended the high school department of Straight University from 1916-1920. He then attended Talladega College, became a talented pianist and received his degree in 1924. Upon returning to New Orleans, Osceola was hired to teach high school chemistry at McDonogh #35. That was also the year he married Daisy Anona Banks, became the organist at Central Congregational Church and performed with various jazz bands throughout the city.
As a youngster, he had natural musical abilities and played a number of instruments. While at Straight, Osceola took musical courses but began to truly develop his talents while at Talledega. It was this love for music that would enable him to introduce his students not only to chemistry but also to the beautiful world of music.
Since a very limited amount of time was allotted to music instruction in the public schools in the 1930s, Mr. Blanchet volunteered to offer music lessons during his lunch periods and after regular school hours. In his after-school music classes; he taught classical music, opera, popular music, music theory and instrumental music. He even taught instrumental music for free in his home and at church.
He became the director of the school’s operettas and would constantly study operas and operettas to get ideas for special programs he was planning for the upcoming year. He also became the director of the Roneagle Chanters and the Roneagle Serenaders , the school’s orchestra.
Under his leadership, McDonogh#35 presented successful operettas, quartet concerts and orchestra productions. As a result, the school received city wide recognition. Performances were held at the Roof Garden of the Pythian Temple as well as community gatherings and charitable institutions.
Under his tutelage, students with little interest in music began to develop an understanding and appreciation for opera and classical music. He also exposed his students to other art forms. They visited Delgado Art Museum and the Cabildo at a time when few blacks were allowed. He exposed his students to the study of famous paintings, poems, books, philosophies, world religions, as well as historical and cultural events. He kept a variety of instruments around his home and often gave them to students and adults who were eager to learn. The grand piano in his living room at 2018 Onzaga Street was always the focal point of a group of his students.
Blanchet influenced many of these students to pursue music after their graduation from #35; including Clyde Kerr Sr., Allegretto Alexander, William Houston, Emma Rose Thornton, Gladys Jones and, in later years, Germaine Bazzle.
After 45 years of teaching, Blanchet retired in 1969. He continued playing the organ for Central Congregational Church, directing the Opera Guild, and giving private lessons until he was well into his eighties. He continued working with the Osceola Five, the city’s most prestigious male vocal harmony group of which he was a founding member.
In 1984, he suddenly slumped over his piano while working with the Osceola Five. He suffered a stroke which deprived him of his speech. He died three years later, April 29, 1987. He left behind his wife, two daughters (Anona and Joycelyn) and three of his four siblings. Louis Blanchet, his oldest brother, passed away in 1975. It should be mentioned that Louis taught Physics at McDonogh #39 during the same time as Osceola was teaching Chemistry and Music.
At his services, his former students praised him for his passion, musical ability, and inspiration. He taught them the theory behind the music and the correct instrumental music techniques. In the words of Al Kennedy, “He was one of the most important jazz mentors in the public schools during the early 1900s.”
Sources: Chord Changes on the Chalkboard/ How Public School Teachers Shaped Jazz and the Music of New Orleans, Al Kennedy, 2002/ Scarecrow Press; The Roneagle ( McDonogh #35 yearbook- 1932 ); Times Picayune Obituary, 1 May 1987 p. 22; Ancestry.com- 1920-1930-1940 (Federal Census)
Lolita V. Cherrie