Remembering Barbara Lacen Keller

May be an image of 1 person, playing a musical instrument, standing and indoor

New Orleans culture bearer and activist Barbara Lacen Keller has died at the age of 76. She was a valued member of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, where she was elected to the Advisory Council in 2016, and onto the Board of the Foundation in 2019. She served as Chair of the Advocacy and Equity Committee and was active with the Programs & Outreach and Gala Committees. She also served on the Board of Directors of WWOZ since 2021.

Barbara’s mother was Augustine “Miss Teen” Germaine Lewis, who in the 1940s was the only Spy Girl Mardi Gras Indian in New Orleans. In the 1950s Barbara herself masked as the Little Queen of the Cheyenne tribe.

She was raised on Villere Street in Tremé, and attended Joseph A. Craig Elementary school, Andrew J. Bell Junior High School, and Joseph S. Clark Sr. High School, followed by Southern University at New Orleans. She was also a proud member of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.

She was a very active figure in New Orleans’ cultural community, including serving on the boards for the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans and the Dryades YMCA. She was an original member of the Lady Buckjumpers, and also founded the New Orleans Social Aid & Pleasure Club Task Force. She was a charter member of the Femme Fatale Mardi Gras krewe, serving as one of the first float captains, and was currently serving as chaplain.

She was involved in politics, as a means to improve the lives of people in New Orleans and across the country. For many years she worked for the City of New Orleans, as the Director of Constituent Services for Council District B Councilwoman Stacey Head, and also later in Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s Office of Cultural Economy. She was fondly nicknamed “the Mayor of Central City,” for all her work in that neighborhood. In 2012 she proudly served as a Barack Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC. She was a Mellon Community Fellow at Tulane University, mentoring graduate students in community relations.

The “Lacen” part of her name came from her marriage to Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen, one of New Orleans’ most famous musicians, who was also Wild Man of the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indian tribe. Their August 1980 wedding in Armstrong Park was the first wedding to take place in the park. Tuba Fats passed in 2004.

One son predeceased her in November of 2022. She is survived by three daughters, four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

New Orleans has lost one of its greatest champions of culture. Barbara was always leading the fight for the rights of our musicians and culture bearers. She left a legacy worthy to be celebrated and remembered for generations to come. All of us at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation extend our deepest condolences to Barbara’s family and friends.

Photo of Barbara Lacen Keller at the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center, 2021 by Eric Simon