RALPH CHESSÉ FAMILY HISTORY
Ralph is on lower right infront on his grandmother. His mother is on the far left in back of Ralph's brother and his father is in the middle of the photo. The other relatives in the photo are Ralph's aunt with her daughter and granddaughter.
Ralph Chessé was the patriarch of a large creative family. He was a Renaissance man in the grandest sense with diverse interests in the arts: theater, sculpture, puppetry, painting, writing and music. His artwork spanned almost the entire 20th century. Before 1950 Chessé painted African American figures in scenes recalling his boyhood in New Orleans, in socially realist depictions of dock workers, and in religious themed motifs derived from the Bible. In 1953, the success of his television program "Brother Buzz", the longest sustaining children's program in SF's television history (1953-1969) brought him a financial independence he had not ever had in his lifetime. It afforded him an opportunity to travel to Europe in 1956 where he could revel in the culture of Europe and see for the first time, in person, the Paris of the impressionists which so greatly influenced him as a young man. It changed his style of painting and brought him back to the easel, from which he had retreated late in the 40's. From that point on he painted nonstop until he was 91 leaving behind a large legacy of art.
NEW ORLEANS ROOTS
A Chessé arrived with Bienville in 1698 at the mouth of the Mississippi. Bienville was the one responsible for the original survey to determine where the city of New Orleans would be located. The ship's Manifest has a Michael Chessé listed as a freebooter (pirate).
The Chessés arrived in the United States during the last half of the 18th century. Some came directly from France and some by way of Santo Domingo on the island of Cuba. After arriving in Lousiana they first settled in Pointe Coupe and built a sugar cane plantation where Joseph Alexander Chessé was born in 1802. He married (or lived with) a slave named Justine Olivier in 1830 and subsequently moved to New Orleans.
The plans for the development of New Orleans was laid out in 1721 so we know that the Chessés were instrumental in the building of New Orleans. and The family house was built in 1830, at 1800 Burgundy on the corner of Kerleric off Esplanade. This was the heart of the French quarter in the Creole Faubourgs. It still stands today and can be found on the historical register.
Ralph Chessé,1900 -1990, and his siblings were born and raised there until the whole family moved to San Francisco in 1928. On the census records all the Chessés were listed as black. As happens in many mixed families some identified with the French white culture and some identified with the Black Culture and strengthened those genes. Chessé's fought in black regiments during the civil war. Jim Crow split families and those that could pass as white did so for reasons, unknown to me. My fathers family chose to identify with their French heritage and all married Caucasians. My grandfather's sister Florentine married Henri Alcard and their line is continued through the Bouttés of New Orleans who are an important part of the Black community and are among other things internationl Jazz musicians and greatly involved in the cultural life of New Orleans post Katrina.
COMMENTS FROM BRUCE CHESSE
The Extended Family
My cousin Norman Rush, a novelist, won the National Book award for his book Mating, in 1991, following this with Mortels in 2003. His brother Robert made political buttons in the "60's, which are now in museums in the US and England
Cousins Peter Albin, bass guitarist, with "Big Brother and the Holding Company", and his brother Rodney went on to help give birth to Rock and Roll, giving the psychedelic movement a home in the Height Ashbury (my uncle owned 1090 Page where the first rock concerts were given and the Albins were managers of it). They took him to many of the Fillmore Rock concerts and their influence was so great that my father ended up exhibiting his paintings with the psychedelic poster artists.
Cousin Nick Rush came up with the idea of screen savers using Disney images and has distinguished himself in the software field. My brother Dion and I were major figures in the San Francisco little theater scene in the 50's 60's and 70's. We also created venues for my father to perform in. I am also an internationally known puppeteer and a pioneer in the area of Puppetry in Education