I am a New Orleans-based author, folklorist, musician, and producer whose work focuses on Louisiana’s rich regional cultures. I have written two books -- Zydeco! (with photographer Rick Olivier) published by the University Press of Mississippi, and Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans, published by the Historic New Orleans Collection -- along with chapters for academic anthologies, liner notes for over one-hundred albums, and articles for numerous publications including The Atlantic, Esquire, Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, and the Oxford American.
In August of 2021 I graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans with a master's degree in musicology.. My thesis, which I will turn into a book, is entitled From 78s to Compact Discs: An Analysis of the Recordings of the Hackberry Ramblers, 1935 - 2004, and the Socio-Cultural Contexts in Which Their Music Evolved.
From 1987 until 2005 I played drums with and managed the Hackberry Ramblers, https://soundcloud.com/user-290807581/old-pipeliner-the-hackberry-ramblers-with-special-guest-rodney-crowell?si=f1df5639316f4c84b1c80e005ab9ceb5&utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing an historic Cajun and western band that was formed in 1933 and featured the two founding members for 72 years. I produced two albums by the Hackberry Ramblers: the Grammy-nominated album Deep Water ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7NTSDg_D4I ), and Cajun Boogie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjDVogiSsNs .) Songs from both albums are available for licensing.
In 2004 a documentary about the band, that I co-produced, aired on PBS: https://www.folkstreams.net/films/make-em-dance-the-hackberry-ramblers-story
In January of 2015 I received the Keeping the Blues Alive in Literature award from the Blues Foundation in Memphis, TN.
In May of 2018 I received an award for Lifetime Contributions to the Humanities from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.
In January of 2020 I received a Spirit of Folk award, for “work as a longtime music journalist/author, folklorist, musician, and producer,” from the Folk Alliance International.
From reviews of Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans:
… A vital, essential addition to the shelf of great books about New Orleans.” Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2012, starred review
“…Strikes that rare balance of academic research and delightful, readable prose. Not only is K-Doe’s story told well, but a moment in time in New Orleans is captured as well…Ben Sandmel has raised the bar for music biographies. No serious student of New Orleans’ musical and cultural history should be without it.” Living Blues, June 2012, page 56
“…Sandmel is a fine, literate writer, one who is able to turn a phrase in the language of the educated man or in the jargon of the street with equal authenticity.” Blues and Rhythm, U.K., June 2012, page 43.
“…a terrific biography… of a truly unique performer… essential reading for those interested in the unique culture of New Orleans.” Publishers Weekly, April 2012, starred review
“…eye-poppingly gorgeous… rich, scholarly text… an absolutely essential Gulf Coast read.” The Austin Chronicle, June 15, 2012
“…Ben Sandmel vividly captures K-Doe’s wild rise out of poverty, the riches on his many 45s and his long, strange rebirth as a Crescent City treasure…” Rolling Stone, June 21, 2012, four stars
“…Ben Sandmel’s affectionate portrait, always judicious, often hilarious, whirls the reader through the streets of New Orleans…” MOJO (U.K.), June 2012, four stars
“…a skillfully understated yet probing and witty literary voice… Sandmel honors K-Doe’s memory without ever idealizing him and humors K-Doe without ever patronizing him. Without a doubt, Ernie K-Doe was a larger-than-life character. Sandmel gives him the story he deserves.” Black Grooves (The Archives of African American Music and Culture at Indiana University), December 2012
“…Ernie K-Doe’s story is… compelling, due largely to the writing talents …of author, musician, and historian Ben Sandmel, whose prose reads like a great New Orleans song is supposed to sound…” The Oxford American, March, 2013
“…a lengthy, brilliantly researched biography… It is a triumph… …Sandmel's book is a magnificent work of art… the Chicago Tribune, May 3, 2013
The 42 songs that I've played on and produced include: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9J4tGFSgRU , https://soundcloud.com/user-290807581/bills-boogie-woogie-by-boogie-bill-webb , https://soundcloud.com/user-290807581/01-poor-hobo-the-hackberry-ramblers-deep-water , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ne7PqQgdno ,
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