Albert Conrad Kempton d'Ossché was born in New Orleans in 1947 during the worst storm to hit that town before Katrina-- a category 5 known as the Fort Lauderdale Hurricane. His earliest musical influences were in his home, soirees to which his parents often invited the bell girl, Sweet Emma Barrett, Papa Celestin and others of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. He grew up in an era when flower ladies and watermelon men sang about their wares up and down the streets of the French Quarter in front of his house. He sat on the bench next to Emma as she belted out tunes while playing in her unique “stride” piano style.
He took up piano. At Taft, in Connecticut, he was the one who kept their pipe organ tuned. In college at the University of North Carolina he played keyboards in various bands. His words, (from In Search) “I left North Carolina diplomaed but dulcimerless. My first instrument (a three-stringed “flat-land tourist special”) found its way into my life when I was living in self-induced exile six miles from the Canadian frontier in northern Vermont.”
Albert not only became a master of the dulcimer, he was a master of comedy and dozens of character voices. His dry wit and impromptu shaggy-dog stories left people gasping for air while he, never breaking for a smile, inexorably drew his laconic narratives and his thoroughly captured audiences to a twitching close.
Although he often effected being a sad-face clown, Albert did so cogently as a deeply spiritual, divine clown. When we laughed, we laughed out of painful empathy brought on by uncomfortable calls to awareness. Many of his songs are about loving and being loved. Those of us who knew him knew he, like Rumi, was singing of the Beloved. His etude, Cornwall, remains to this day one of the most poignant pieces written on and for the dulcimer.