R&B singer and guitarist Snooks Eaglin, a New Orleans legend who counted platinum-selling rockers among his fans, has died. He was 72.
The blind musician died Wednesday of a heart attack at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans after falling ill and being hospitalized, said John Blancher, a close family friend. Eaglin was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, Blancher said.
Eaglin, known for picking strings with his thumbnail, played and recorded with a host of New Orleans giants, including Professor Longhair, the Wild Magnolias and pianist Allen Toussaint.
But New Orleans musicians knew him best.
Toussaint was 13 when he formed a band with Eaglin called the Flamingos.
"He played with a certain finger style that was highly unusual," said Toussaint, now 71. "He was unlimited on the guitar. . . . There was nothing he couldn't do. It was extraordinary."
Eaglin was slated to perform this year at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, where he was a popular yearly draw. Quint Davis, the event's producer, said the musician's death leaves a hole that cannot be filled, not only in the festival but also in the city's music community.
"His death is like losing a Dizzy Gillespie, a Professor Longhair, a Johnny Adams or a Gatemouth Brown," Davis said. "He's one of those unique giants of New Orleans music."
Born Fird Eaglin in 1937 in New Orleans, he was blinded by glaucoma as an infant. A self-taught musician, Eaglin learned to play the guitar by listening to the radio. Picking with his thumbnail allowed him to play very fast, Davis said.
One of Eaglin's most well-known songs was "Funky Malaguena," a Latin tune that he played with an unconventional funk and blues spin, Davis said.
Because he could play with almost anyone, Eaglin can be heard on 50 years' worth of New Orleans recordings, from early folk to R&B and jazz, Davis said. "He played a six-string, a 12-string. He could play anything with strings on it."
Eaglin, who lived in St. Rose, La., west of New Orleans, is survived by his wife, Dorothea "Dee" Eaglin, and a daughter.