Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Meeting Ernie in New Orleans Square

Meet Ernest, "Ernie", McLean.  

He works in New Orleans Square at the Disneyland Resort.  He has been working for Disneyland since 1966.  Supposedly, he was the last cast member hired by Walt himself.  Ernie grew up in New Orleans, LA and started playing guitar when he was 11 years old.  He came to Los Angeles with Scatman Crothers, the voice of Scat Cat in The Aristocats.  When Frank Sinatra wanted Scatman to go on tour with him, this left Ernie without a job.  In steps Walt.  Ernie's been playing jazz in New Orleans Square ever since.

Ernie was an original member of Cosimo Matassa's band in New Orleans.  He also played with Fats Domino and is credited with recording what some think to be the first rock 'n' roll song, "The Fat Man", in 1949 with Fats.  He was also a member of the Dave Bartholomew Band and has played with Lou Rawls, Sonny and Cher and was a part of the Dr. John, Gris Gris album.

Since we're both from the south and I had been to New Orleans, LA several times, we started talking about his home city.  He shared some stories of growing up in the Ninth Ward.  I shared my stories of visiting the Ninth Ward post Katrina.  He has not been back to New Orleans since Katrina hit in 2005, but has friends and family who are still there.  The stories he shared, with the memories I have of the Ninth Ward are two totally different images.  

If you go to Disneyland, look for Ernie.  I saw him twice.  Both times he was sitting on a bar stool in the shade, playing his guitar.  He wasn't singing when I saw him, just playing soft jazz on his guitar.  Ernie, being a native New Orleans man, is perfect for New Orleans Square at Disneyland.  For a second, I really felt like I was walking down Bourbon Street in Louisiana!  That's the beauty of Disney.  The incredible attention to detail.

My advice to you is to slow down.  On our next trip, this is what my husband and I plan to do.  After meeting Ernie and Oscar at Disneyland, we decided this trip we would spend time talking to cast members and listening to their stories.  It's amazing what treasures are hiding in the walls of Walt Disney World and Disneyland if we just slow down enough to recognize them!


  1. So glad you were able to meet Ernie!  I've seen him several times but never had the time to chat since I always had my little one with me.

  2. I am sorry to report that Ernie Mc Lean passed away earlier

    Ernie had been a presence in New Orleans Square for over 30 year
    delighting our guests with his guitar playing and warm smile. 

    For the past several months Ernie has been in Colorado fighting
    cancer.  He was in good spirits up to the
    end and still strumming on the guitar. 


    He will be missed.


    Below is an article about Ernie from the Disneyland Line that you
    may enjoy reading.


    C a s t p r o f i l e

    If you have wandered the eclectic streets of New
    Orleans Square there’s

    a good chance you have heard the legendary Ernie Mc
    Lean strumming his

    guitar. Just past the hustle and bustle of the
    Pirates of the Caribbean queue

    and guests waiting to eat at Café Orleans and Blue
    Bayou, Ernie, 87, sits on a

    wooden stool plugged into an amp playing jazz tunes
    for those strolling by.


    Did you have a
    musical family?

    Ernie Mc Lean: My father taught

    me how to play the guitar. I started

    playing at the age of 11, but don’t

    ask me what I was playing back then

    because I couldn’t tell you. My father

    had a job playing in a government

    concert band in New Orleans. They

    told him the banjo player needed to

    double on guitar. When he started to

    learn the guitar he taught me too.


     Did you continue

    your musical

    after high school?

    EM: After high school, my father

    said, ‘Look you’re not gonna be

    running around like you’re crazy,

    this is World War II.' So I joined the

    Navy. When I auditioned for their

    band, they put music in front of me to

    audition and I messed it up something

    terrible. Then they told me I did okay.

    They taught me everything I needed

    to know about music. I played for

    four-and-a-half years in the Navy.


    What did you do

    your military

    EM: After I got out of the service,

    I decided I wanted to continue

    playing music for a living. When

    I played with Dave Bartholomew

    things really took off. We recorded

    with Fats Domino, Nancy Wilson,

    Little Richard, Sonny and Cher, and

    even did Chrysler commercials.


    How did you

    end up working at

    Disneyland Resort?


    EM: I auditioned as a guitar player

    for a tour. I didn’t think I was going

    to get the job. Then they started to

    talk about rehearsals and going to

    the studio, so I stopped them and

    said, ‘You haven’t offered me the

    job,’ and they replied, ‘Why do you

    think we are telling you this if you

    didn’t get the job?’ Once the tour

    ended, Disney eventually called

    me to sub for the banjo player at

    Disneyland Park. That is when I

    became permanent at Disneyland.




  3. Thank you for this update.  It saddens my heart to hear this news.  I'm writing another post about him now. :(