Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe was born September 20, 1895 in New Orleans accordings to statements by himself and his siblings, although other accounts give a date of October 20, 1890. He took the last name of Morton from his stepfather; it may have been an Anglicized version of Mouton.
Morton played the harmonica, guitar and trombone as young child and by age 14 was playing piano in the brothels of Storyville. He was mentored there by ragtime pianist and composer Tony Jackson, and claimed that their after-hours jam sessions were the beginnings of jazz. It was at this time that he began using the nickname "Jelly Roll". By 1904 he was touring the South playing in minstrel shows and honky-tonks.
Shaw area of Washington DC.
Morton was asked by folklorist and musicologist Alan Lomax to record music and interviews for the Library of Congress in 1938, producing over eight hours of tapes. These were released as a CD boxed set in 2005, winning two Grammy Awards, as well as a lifetime achievement award for Morton.
During the time of Lomax's interviews, Morton was stabbed in a bar fight, worsening previous lung problems. He moved to California to live in a more moderate climate, and died in Los Angeles on July 10, 1941.