BLACK HISTORY FEATURE — Port Arthur’s Zachary Breaux left legacy of music, died a hero

Published 12:40 am Friday, February 4, 2022

When Zachary Breaux plunged into the water at a beach in Miami in 1997 to save a woman caught in a riptide, he likely wasn’t thinking of himself.

The up-and-coming jazz musician whose third album reached No. 14 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart was vacationing with his wife and children when he made the split decision to dive in.

Sadly, he suffered a fatal heart attack, and the 66-year-old woman he was trying to rescue also died.

Zachary Breaux’s display features two guitars, his three CDs, a bio and photo. It’s adjacent to the display of Ted Dunbar of Port Arthur, who was featured on one of Breaux’s CDs. (Mary Meaux/The News)

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But it wasn’t the first time he put another life above his own.

Nine years prior, Breaux saved the life of a swimmer off the coast of Italy. He had honed his swimming skills as a kid in his hometown of Port Arthur.

Feb. 20 marks the 25th year of his death, and those who knew him want to make sure the memory of his heroism and of his musical prowess lives on.

Port Arthur resident Doris Hayes knew Breaux, who died at age 36, and his family and once chaired a Port Arthur jazz festival in Breaux’s name. There’s also the connection between Hayes and the Breauxs through the historic West Side’s St. Paul United Methodist Church.

Hayes called Breaux a hero and likened his unselfish act of trying to save someone’s life to that of a person in the military.

“I want it to be known he is a fallen hero. He gave his life. There is no greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends,” Hayes said, referencing Bible verse John 15:13.

She said he gave no thought of what he was giving up when he jumped into the water to save a life.

Zachary Breaux, right, plays lead guitar in this photo taken from Lincoln High School’s 1978 yearbook, The Bumblebee. (Courtesy photo)

Childhood

Zachary Breaux, the son of Verlie and Manuel Breaux, grew up in Port Arthur along with six siblings who all played some sort of instrument.

Breaux, who later went on to tour the world and put out three albums of his smooth jazz, got his first guitar from an uncle at the age of 7, his parents said in a 2008 interview with The Port Arthur News.

By the age of 11, he moved up to electric guitar, working on the jazz styles of George Bensen and John Coltrane. And by the time he was in band at Abraham Lincoln High School, he was writing music for the marching band to perform during football games.

A look at The Bumblebee, the high school’s yearbook in 1978, shows a photo of Beaux on lead guitar alongside classmate Darrell Mitchell. Another photo is a group shot of some of the seniors including Breaux, who was named “Most Talented.”

Artemus Hancock, who spent decades teaching musicians in Port Arthur, once taught Breaux. He said Breaux was very polite and loyal.

“He loved being around people and treated everybody with manners,” Hancock said.

Breaux was part of a stage band that was invited to perform the Thomas Jefferson High School junior/senior prom.

Zachary Breaux, bottom left, was named Most Talented in high school graduating class. (Courtesy photo/The News)

After high school

Breaux headed to North Texas State University to study music composition and was chosen for the One O’Clock Band in his freshman year, something considered quite an accomplishment.

He studied with jazz legend Donald Byrd and at Byrd’s advice, went to New York as a professional musician.

According to the Texas State Historical Association Handbook of Texas, he auditioned and worked with Roy Ayers.

His break came when Ayers took ill while on tour in London and Breaux filled in for him as band director, the article read.

Breaux released three albums: Groovin’ in 1993, Laidback in 1994 and Uptown Groove in 1997.

Breaux’s legacy can be seen as the gift of music to the world as well as his unselfish acts to save others.