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Playing after 70 is no problem for Cajun Queen musicians — they still got it!

Andy Anderson (far left), Doug Henry and Mark Richards are all in their 70s and play weekly at the Cajun Queen restaurant on 7th Street.
Gwendolyn Glenn
/
WFAE
Andy Anderson (far left), Doug Henry and Mark Richards are all in their 70s and play weekly at the Cajun Queen restaurant on 7th Street.

They say every day is Mardi Gras inside the 106-year-old building in the Elizabeth neighborhood that houses the Cajun Queen restaurant on 7th Street. Besides the Cajun and Creole dishes served daily, the 7th Street Gator Band plays jazz there seven nights a week. Some of the rotating band members have played at the restaurant since it opened in 1985 and are now in their late 70s.

On a recent night at Cajun Queen, 74-year-old saxophone and clarinet player Doug Henry, was busy setting up his horns before the dinner crowd arrived.

Saxophone and clarinet player Doug Henry plays jazz and sometimes sings blues tunes three nights a week at the Cajun Queen restaurant in the historic Elizabeth neighborhood.
Gwendolyn Glenn
/
WFAE
Saxophone and clarinet player Doug Henry plays jazz and sometimes sings blues tunes three nights a week at the Cajun Queen restaurant in the historic Elizabeth neighborhood.

On Monday and Tuesday evenings, Henry, pianist Mark Richards and drummer Andy Anderson play at Cajun Queen, in front of a picture window, on a small stage in a cozy upstairs room with a fireplace. Henry, a former Providence Day teacher, has been playing at Cajun Queen since 1989. He says he’s played the same saxophone since 1968.

“I bought that saxophone new,” Henry said. “I paid $400 for it and a new one of that caliber is $6 [thousand], $7 [thousand] or maybe $8,000. It was shiny and pretty at one time but it still plays great. It’s been all over the world.”

And so has Henry. Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, he was playing with the Bill Hannah Quartet when he was asked to sit in a few nights a week at Cajun Queen. Prior to that, Henry played on cruises that took him all over Europe, New Zealand, Australia and the Caribbean. He also played for many years with several Motown artists.

“I’ve done about 30 states with the Four Tops and Temptations. Not all the original Temptations. There were two left when I started doing it, but all of the Four Tops were still alive at that time. The last show I played with them was in December in Washington at the MGM Grand up there,” Henry said.

Pianist Mark Richards has played at Cajun Queen since 2001
Gwendolyn Glenn
/
WFAE
Pianist Mark Richards has played at Cajun Queen since 2001.

Customers sit at tables in the upstairs dining areas and the bar, as the 7th Street Gator Band fills the room with smooth tunes. Henry belted out an upbeat version of "Stormy Monday," but said he usually sticks to his horns and leaves the singing for the trio to pianist Mark Richards.

At 70, Richards is the youngest of the trio. He is a native of Parkersburg, West Virginia, and started out playing the trombone at Cajun Queen. He took over the piano seat when the previous player fell ill. Richards, always a full-time musician, toured with Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Johnny Mathis, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and The Drifters, before something changed his life 40 years ago.

“Most of that road time was before I got married. and after we got married, that’s when I started working at the Greenbrier Hotel (in West Virginia) and a much more settled down style of living,” Richards said. “Somebody was always calling and you say, ‘yeah, I’ll go on that tour,’ but you get a little worked out and you decide I’m going to have to take a break for a while."

Richards said he came to Charlotte to semi-retire and has been playing at Cajun Queen since 2001.

“It’s just a nice place to be,” Richards said. “People are very receptive to the music we play, which is usually what we, kind of, like to play. We play a lot of jazz; we play a lot of standards.”

“A lot of people like to call it the Great American Songbook,” Henry added.

Drummer Andy Anderson worked in banking and played Jazz on the weekends before joining the 7th Street Cajun Queen band
Gwendolyn Glenn
/
WFAE
Drummer Andy Anderson worked in banking and played jazz on the weekends before joining the 7th Street Cajun Queen band.

The third member of the trio is drummer Andy Anderson. The 76-year-old Anderson, a Charlotte native, started as a substitute drummer at Cajun Queen more than 25 years ago. He became a regular when drummer Jim Lackey, his friend, died. Lackey’s family donated his drums to the restaurant. Anderson’s journey to becoming a member of the 7th Street Gator Band, whose logo he wears proudly on a T-shirt, was winding.

“I was in banking for 30-some-odd years and played every weekend with a band that did what I would call commercial dance music — ballroom dance, and it sort of morphed into doing outside concerts at shopping centers and then playing up here,” Anderson said.

He said his banking colleagues were aware of his side gig at Cajun Queen, and it was not a problem with them.

“As long as I got the work done during the day, this was no problem at all. It gave me kind of an outlet because sometimes the banking job was demanding, and this was kind of a release so it helped mentally,” Anderson said.


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The trio say they don’t see playing at Cajun Queen as actual work because they love performing there. It’s evident in their playing, and it’s also obvious how close they are.

“We enjoy each other, and we all like each other in addition to playing,” Henry said. “We just like being together — we’re family. And playing here. there’s a family thing — this whole place, the waiters, the bus boys, the people that run it, us, everybody. People come and stay a long time.”

That includes customers who frequent the restaurant regularly.

“We’ve got one fellow that comes up here every day, Mr. Roy, unless he’s at the beach. He’s a great guy, and the greatest jazz fan in Charlotte.” Richards said. “And we have people that will come in every now and then and sit in and sing with us.”
 

The 7th Street Gator Band plays seven nights a week at the Cajun Queen restaurant in the Elizabeth neighborhood
Gwendolyn Glenn
/
WFAE
The 7th Street Gator Band plays seven nights a week at the Cajun Queen restaurant in the Elizabeth neighborhood.

The only thing that’s slowed the musicians down was the coronavirus pandemic that caused Cajun Queen, along with many other businesses, to close for a time. The trio say they are all in good health and have no plans to stop playing anytime soon. Henry says he never was a smoker and can still blow his horns as he did in his youth.

Drummer Andy Anderson (far left), saxophone player Doug Henry and piano player Mark Richards (foreground) take a break during a set at the Cajun Queen restaurant. They say in addition to enjoying playing together, they are all great friends.
Gwendolyn Glenn
/
WFAE
Drummer Andy Anderson (far left), saxophone player Doug Henry and piano player Mark Richards (foreground) take a break during a set at the Cajun Queen restaurant. They say in addition to enjoying playing together, they are all great friends.

“I just love to play music,” Henry said. “It’s one of the things I used to tell my students that you can do when you’re old just as well as when you were a kid. You don’t see 74-year-old soccer players or football players running around, you know?”

Henry and the others say they will keep playing at Cajun Queen as long as they enjoy it. As for the chances of a newcomer replacing someone in the lineup, Henry said, “I shouldn’t tell my joke, but Andy says go ahead. In order to get off this band you have to die. I’m joking,” he said with a hearty laugh.

“It’s actually true, that’s the sad thing about it,” Richards added, laughing as well.

“Or somebody not being able to get up the stairs would be the only other reason that somebody is replaced,” Henry said.

"This music’s been going on here seven nights a week for 35 years or whatever more, and it is an institution," he added. "And people do come from far away. When they come into town, they come here."

And if you happen to be at Cajun Queen on weekend evenings, you can also hear WFAE’s own Judith Porter on piano and vocals.

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Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.