FROM HER OFFICE OVERLOOKING FRENCHMEN, New Orleans’s most musical street, Jan Ramsey commands OffBeat magazine, which has reported on the city’s music scene in painstaking detail for three decades, promoting musicians who might otherwise never receive a lick of press. Ramsey, who is 68, has recently let her trademark fire-orange hair go grey, but nonetheless radiates color in her quiet, messy office. Her handicap keeps her immobile; she doesn’t go out to the nightclubs much anymore, and only herthree young employees and her husband and publishing partner, Joseph Irrera, see the amazing outfits and accessories she wears to the office. On the day I visit her, musical-note earrings dangle from her lobes, a green scarab ring nearly eclipses her left hand, and a huge ceramic macaw hangs around her neck.
Ramsey gestures out the big windows onto Frenchmen’s typical late-afternoon crowd of tourists.
“I can’t stand the cover bands that play at this restaurant down here,” Ramsey says. When I suggest that OffBeat may be partly to blame for Frenchmen turning into the new Bourbon Street by advertising it as a musical mecca, she surprises me by shrugging the comment off.
“Pretty much everybody in the music business in New Orleans loves Jan,” says Scott Aiges, who later became the Times-Picayune’s first official local Jazz and Pop writer, and today works for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation. “But it’s also fair to say that you aren’t really in the music business in New Orleans unless you’ve had a fight with Jan at some point.” It also seems fair to say that, if Ramsey weren’t a fighter, the world wouldn’t still have OffBeat.
Ramsey studied business at the University of New Orleans, and famously finished her bachelor’s degree from a hospital bed after being hit head-on by a drunk driver—which is why she now depends upon a mobility scooter. In the mid-’80s, Ramsey, a New Orleans music addict since her girlhood, made it her mission to educate everyone she could about the business of music, and how much New Orleans music helped everyone’s financial bottom line. She joined music-advocacy nonprofits, and started a couple others.
“I think I pissed a lot of people in the music community off,” she says. “I was like this outsider coming in, even though I was born here. I was perceived as a dilettante.” Ramsey also felt people minimized her because of her gender. When she met Cosimo Matassa, the producer whose recording studio birthed Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” he regarded her with skepticism, according to Ramsey. “I was wearing a suit and pantyhose and telling people what to do, and people didn’t like that,” she says. Ramsey’s traditional response to sexism in the music and media world? “Just watch me, motherfucker.” To read the rest of this excellent article at Columbia Journalism Review, CLICK HERE!