Laura Painia Jackson, the business manager of the legendary Dew Drop Inn, died Sept. 11 of kidney failure at her New Orleans home, her son, Kenneth Jackson, said. She was 91.
The Dew Drop, at 2836 LaSalle St. in Central City, was a magnet for Black entertainers when segregation was the rule. It was also a family business that Jackson’s father, Frank Painia, founded in 1939. In addition to a performing area, the Dew Drop had a barber shop, a restaurant and a hotel for traveling performers who, in the Jim Crow era, could neither eat nor sleep in New Orleans’ famed establishments.
“Deacon John” Moore, who played there frequently, called the Dew Drop “a one-stop shop” where traveling musicians could get free lodging in exchange for performing.
Ray Charles, who lived at the Dew Drop, frequently practiced on the piano at the home where Jackson lived with her parents, said Melanie Painia, a niece.
Jackson, who also taught in the city’s public schools, managed business operations, including payroll. Because she was in charge of writing checks, “she knew all the musicians,” her son said. “She made sure everybody was paid.”
She headed to the Dew Drop after school to help manage the business, Kenneth Jackson said. “She did what she had to do.”
“She was a very independent lady – very fashionable, very knowledgeable,” Melanie Painia said. “She was very cool and collected. I never saw her get upset, even in crisis situations.”
Perhaps the best example of that trait came when Jackson was teaching at Guste Elementary and saw a fire in the house across the street, her son said.
“She left out of the classroom and pulled a box of burning trash out of the house – no one was home at the time – and prevented a fire from happening in the house. Then she went back and taught.”
Jackson had been groomed to be part of the business side of the Dew Drop since childhood, her son said. “The entire family took part in it.”
“She was always in the background,” said Irma Thomas, who remembered singing at the Dew Drop in the early 1960s, when she was pregnant.
“We got $12 a night, which was nice money in those days,” Thomas said. “We used to hang around the Dew Drop when we weren’t working, when you could get a plate of red beans for 25 cents.”
One night’s payment, which was always in cash, was the equivalent of about $100 today – enough, Thomas said, to pay her rent.
Jackson, a lifelong New Orleanian, was known as “Toots” and “Teasie,” Melanie Painia said.
She graduated from McDonogh No. 35 High School and Dillard University, where she majored in education. She taught at Guste Elementary and Robert T. Moton Elementary School before retiring around 1990.
By that time, the Dew Drop had lost its luster. The Civil Rights Act, which Congress passed in 1964, ended the restrictions on where African Americans could seek entertainment. Another factor was Frank Painia’s death in 1972.
After that, “all of the shows stopped,” Kenneth Jackson said. “The family kept the bar open for a while. We rented it, and I ran it for a while. We just left it alone and dealt with the hotel aspect of it. It stayed open until Katrina.”
The Dew Drop, which has been designated a historic landmark by the city’s Historic District Landmarks Commission, is on the market, said Jackson, a co-owner. The asking price is $600,000.
In addition to her son, Laura Jackson’s survivors include two grandchildren.
A graveside memorial service will be held Thursday at 10 a.m. at Mount Olivet Cemetery, 4000 Norman Mayer Ave.
Serenity Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.