Lettsworth, Louisiana, in Point Coupee Parish, has a population of less than half of the undergraduates currently enrolled in the LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Kennedy Center Honoree, and six-time Grammy winner George “Buddy” Guy is a Lettsworth native whose hands have made him one of the most influential blues guitarists of all time. For a brief period, those hands helped to repair things that were broken at LSU.
At 19, Guy took a job with what eventually became known as the LSU Office of Facility Services; at the time he could not have enrolled at the university due to his race. Guy worked here from 1955 to 1957, the outset of the Black Civil Rights Movement under Jim Crow laws.
In 1953, two years prior to Guy working on campus, and one year before the landmark Brown v. the Board of Education decision, A. P. Tureaud, Jr. was admitted to LSU, under court order, as our first African American undergraduate.
“It was the beginning of the worst experience I ever had,” recalls Tureaud. “I was totally rejected by the adults, the faculty, and the students.”
Tureaud remembers being harassed, ostracized, and kept awake all night with loud music and repeated banging on his dorm walls. He says this prevented him from studying and, at times, even sleeping. He resigned in less than a semester to pursue his education in more welcoming environs. It would be 11 years before another African American would be called an LSU undergraduate.
Even with all of the acrimony during this period on campus, Buddy Guy graciously recalls working for LSU. Of quitting the maintenance team to follow his dreams of playing guitar in Chicago, a burgeoning blues hub, Guy quotes his foreman as saying, “You can always have your job back, Buddy, if things don’t work out up there.”
But, “work out” things did as Guy quickly established himself as one of Chicago’s greatest bluesmen and a hero to multiple generations of guitarists from Eric Clapton, who inducted him into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 along with B.B. King, to Keith Richards to John Mayer. Seven years later, in December 2012, he was inducted into the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts along with David Letterman, Dustin Hoffman, and Led Zepplin.
At the induction ceremony, Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein remarked of the bluesman, “Buddy Guy is a titan of the blues and has been a tremendous influence on virtually everyone who has picked up an electric guitar in the last half century.”
Though he hasn’t worked on campus for more than 50 years, LSU, through the College of Music & Dramatic Arts, is proudly bestowing an honorary doctorate to one of our own, George “Buddy” Guy, a true Louisiana musical legend.