Efforts of alumnus challenged inclusion, developed musicians, inspired thousands

By T. Scott Boatright/GSU University Communications 

A Grambling State University graduate was honored with “The Ultimate Honor Event.” 

The late Elijah Brimmer Jr., a product of the former Alcee Fortier High School in New Orleans, had that school’s building, which now houses Lusher Charter School, renamed in his honor. 

The building is located at 7315 Willow St. in New Orleans. 

Hired in 1978, Brimmer was among the second wave of Black teachers to integrate Fortier High School, according to a petition that sought to have the building named in Brimmer’s honor.   

That petition noted that Brimmer “worked to change the systemic racism within Mardi Gras parades” that affected Black high school bands at the time.  

Fortier alumnus Norman Bell, in a comment on an online petition asking for the school to be renamed in Brimmer’s honor, remembered Brimmer fondly.  

“Mr. Brimmer was an inspiration to thousands. He inspired not only band members, but the entire student body was challenged to succeed because of the pride of inclusion he created. This honor would be well deserved,” Bell wrote.  

After Brimmer’s death in 2019, Mayor LaToya Cantrell honored him with a post made on social media. 

 “Mr. Brimmer has played a pivotal role in the lives of our musicians and culture in so many positive ways,” Cantrell wrote. “His years of service to the uptown community will never be forgotten.” 

Members of the Elijah Brimmer Jr. Committee, which worked to have the building named after Brimmer, said that Brimmer worked countless hours on and off the clock, dedicating his life to educating his students in instrumental, concert and marching band music.  

Brimmer was born June 24, 1945, in New Orleans and was raised by his parents — Elijah Brimmer Sr. and Agnes Landry Brimmer, in the city’s Uptown Garden District. 

A graduate of New Orleans’ Booker T. Washington High School, Brimmer’s musical abilities earned him a four-year scholarship to attend GSU, where he was a member of the World Famed Marching Tiger Band. 

After graduating from GSU with a bachelor’s degree in music, Brimmer went back home to New Orleans, where he worked as a student teacher and wrote sheet music for several schools in the district.’ 

Brimmer worked at New Orleans’ George Washington Carver High School before receiving a full-time position at Alcee Fortier High School in 1978. 

He is said to have faced many challenges dealing with students from different wards and four different New Orleans housing projects: Calliope, Melpomene, Magnolia and St. Thomas, especially when gangs/drug sales territories began to form in the late 1980s and early ’90s. 

Brimmer is said to have used music as a way of bridging those gaps by focusing on a common goal of students wanting to be part of the best marching band in uptown New Orleans. 

His above and beyond approach was evident when he provided transportation for students to and from band practice and after football and basketball games as well as carnival parades by picking them up and dropping them off at public bus stops.  

He headed the Fortier Band Summer Camp for 20 years, with community members calling him a father to the fatherless, a mentor, a role model, advocate, visionary and leader not only in the school system but also as a pillar in the community. 

James Henderson was in the drum corps in GSU’s World Famed Tiger Marching Band when he first met Brimmer, who was a flutist in the band. Henderson later worked often with Brimmer when Henderson was Chief Financial Officer for the New Orleans Public Schools System from 1975-97. 

“It’s an outstanding and well-deserved honor,” Henderson said of the building being renamed in Brimmer’s honor. “He built one of the best music programs at Fortier — he put the school on the map. “That school took a lot of pride in that band he built.” 

Brimmer’s band at Fortier became one of the premiere bands during carnival season in New Orleans, serving as one of the lead-off bands for some one of the city’s top Mardi Gras parades like Bachhaus and the Krewe of Freret. 

“The Krewe of Freret (parade) started Uptown on the street in front of Fortier High School,” Henderson said. “They would march out of their school with pride like you wouldn’t believe. They would march straight out of the school into the formation of the parade.  

“Just to see them in that parade was something to see — something special, just like he was.” 


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