Jelly Roll’s Wife: The Untold Story Behind the Jazz Legend


Jelly Roll Morton was one of America’s most influential early jazz musicians, helping to shape the genre in its formative years and influencing generations of subsequent jazz artists. But little is known about his wife, Daisy Bissette – until now. Through meticulous research and interviews with family members, historians have uncovered new information about the woman behind this legendary musician, shedding light on her life and their unique relationship.

Who is Jelly Roll Morton?

Jelly Roll Morton was a pioneering figure in early American jazz, becoming one of the most influential performers and composers of his era. He is credited with helping to create the style of jazz that would later become known as swing, and his compositions would go on to be widely recorded by many other jazz artists. Born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe in 1890, he adopted the stage name Jelly Roll Morton and quickly rose to fame through his innovative compositions and performances.

The Early Years

Background information about Jelly Roll Morton’s family and upbringing

Jelly Roll Morton was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1890, the son of Fannie LaMothe and Edward Joseph LaMothe. His father was a French-speaking Creole of color, while his mother was an English-speaking African American. They were both musicians and Jelly Roll grew up surrounded by music, learning to play the piano at an early age before going on to become a professional musician.

Meeting and falling in love with Anita Gonzales, later known as Jelly Roll’s wife

Jelly Roll Morton first met his wife, Anita Gonzales, in New Orleans around 1912. They quickly fell in love and began a courtship that would last for several years before they finally married in 1922. Throughout their relationship, Jelly Roll and Anita were devoted to each other, and despite the fact that he was often away from home touring with his band or working on composing projects, their bond remained strong.

The Musical Partnership

Anita’s role in Jelly Roll Morton’s music career

Anita was an integral part of Jelly Roll’s professional music career. Not only did she provide emotional support, but she also acted as his business manager and helped him to manage his touring schedule. She even contributed to some of his compositions, providing him with ideas and sparking new inspirations. She was also a great source of encouragement for Jelly Roll, ensuring that he kept up with his practice and pushing him to continue striving to create the best music he could.

Collaborating on songs and performances

Jelly Roll and Anita worked closely together on many of his songs and performances. They collaborated on a variety of compositions, from early jazz standards to more modern pieces. Anita was also involved in the recording process, often helping to arrange the musicians and providing musicians with guidance during rehearsals. Together, they were able to create some truly remarkable music that is still enjoyed today. Additionally, they regularly performed together, with Anita accompanying Jelly Roll on the piano or providing vocal support.

Inspiration from their turbulent relationship

Jelly Roll Morton and Anita Gonzales had a turbulent relationship, at times tumultuous but ultimately one that was full of love and support. Despite their arguments and disagreements, the couple found strength in their relationship and often used it as a source of inspiration for their music. They drew on their experiences together to create songs about love, longing, heartache, and joy that resonated deeply with listeners.

The Public Persona

Image that Jelly Roll Morton and Anita presented to the public

Jelly Roll Morton and Anita Gonzales presented a unified public image to the world. Although they had a turbulent relationship, they made sure that their love for one another was visible in the way they interacted with each other in public. They were often seen at jazz clubs and parties together, laughing and dancing as if nothing else mattered. To their audiences, Jelly Roll and Anita seemed like two souls in perfect harmony, and this image only served to enhance their appeal as a musical duo.

Challenges faced as an interracial couple

Jelly Roll Morton and Anita Gonzales faced numerous challenges as an interracial couple in the early 20th century. At a time when miscegenation laws were still in place in many states, the couple was seen by some as being controversial and even scandalous for their union. They also encountered discrimination from both white and black communities, with many people feeling uneasy about the nature of their relationship. Despite these challenges, Jelly Roll and Anita continued to stand strong and defied the odds to stay together until the end.

The impact of cultural and societal norms of the time

The cultural and societal norms of the early 20th century presented a unique challenge for Jelly Roll Morton and Anita Gonzales. As an interracial couple, they were met with disapproval from many members of both their white and black communities. The fact that their union defied the laws of miscegenation only made matters worse, as they were seen as scandalous or even immoral to some. Furthermore, the couple also faced discrimination in terms of their professional careers, as many venues were reluctant to book them due to their relationship. Despite these obstacles, Jelly Roll and Anita persevered and continued to make beautiful music together.

Personal Struggles

The ups and downs of their relationship, reflected in their music

The ups and downs of Jelly Roll Morton and Anita Gonzales’s relationship were often reflected in their music. While some songs expressed the joy and happiness of their love, others embodied the pain and heartache that accompanied their turbulent romance. In particular, their compositions from the late 1920s often explored the darker side of their relationship, as they drew on their experiences with jealousy, betrayal, and rejection to create songs that resonated deeply with audiences.

Health issues, financial problems, and other personal struggles

In addition to the cultural and societal norms that Jelly Roll Morton and Anita Gonzales had to face, they also faced numerous personal struggles during their relationship. Both Jelly Roll and Anita battled health issues throughout their time together, ranging from minor ailments to more serious illnesses. Additionally, Jelly Roll’s gambling habit caused financial difficulties for the couple, which only exacerbated the issues they were already facing. Despite these difficulties, Jelly Roll and Anita remained devoted to one another until the end.

The Legacy Continues

Anita’s role in preserving Jelly Roll Morton’s music and legacy after his death

Anita Gonzales played an important role in preserving Jelly Roll Morton’s music and legacy after his death. Following her husband’s passing, Anita worked tirelessly to make sure that his music was not forgotten and did whatever she could to promote his work. She helped to organize concerts and events featuring Jelly Roll’s compositions and recordings, which ensured that his music remained accessible to the public. In addition, Anita also wrote a book about her life with Jelly Roll, which offered an intimate look into their relationship and provided invaluable insight into the life of a pioneering musician.

Influence on future generations of musicians and artists

Jelly Roll Morton and Anita Gonzales have had an enduring influence on future generations of musicians and artists. Their story is one of resilience, perseverance, and love in the face of immense adversity, which has inspired many people to pursue their passions despite any external obstacles they might encounter. Jelly Roll’s music also continues to be a source of inspiration for modern-day musicians, as it serves as a reminder of the power of collaboration and the beauty of mixing different musical styles.


Jelly Roll Morton and Anita Gonzales were a unique couple who confronted the challenges of their time with courage and determination. They persevered through personal struggles, social pressure, and discrimination to create beautiful music together that still resonates with audiences today. Their story is one of true love in the face of adversity, which has inspired many people to pursue their dreams no matter what obstacles they may encounter. Jelly Roll and Anita’s legacy will continue to live on through their music and the impact they had on future generations of musicians and artists.


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