Return to Louisiana's Legendary Musicians: A Select List

South Louisiana

Amede Ardoin / Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin and Canray Fontenot

Creole [1896 - 1941]; [circa 1914 -]; [1918 - 1995]
In the early 1930s, Creole accordionist Amede Ardoin made some of the first and most important recordings by a French-speaking musician from South Louisiana. In an era of strict segregation, many of these selections found him accompanied by Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee. This soulful and passionate body of work, including "The Midland Two-Step" and "Les Blues de la Prison" influenced the course of Cajun music and zydeco for decades to come. Amede Ardoin's nephew, accordionist Alphonse "Bois-Sec" Ardoin, is the most direct heir to this legacy. Born circa 1914 and still active, Ardoin refers to his acoustic, old-time style as "la musique Creole." His longtime musical partner (and co-recipient of a National Heritage Fellowship) was fiddler Canray Fontenot. Since Fontenot's death, Ardoin performs with Balfa Toujours. His grandsons Chris and Sean are both the leaders of popular zydeco bands.

Bois Sec Ardoin (video)

Prairie Creole Music / Prairie Creole Mardi Gras (video)

J'ai Ete Au Bal / Canray Fontenot (audio)

Dewey Balfa

Cajun [1927 - 1992]
An accomplished fiddler and dedicated cultural crusader, Dewey Balfa was one of the first Cajun musicians to perform outside of Louisiana. Appearing at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964, he was pleasantly surprised to see that Cajun music was well received so far from home. Determined to preserve this legacy in Louisiana and spread the word far afield, Balfa and his brothers Will and Rodney recorded a definitive album entitled The Balfa Brothers Play Cajun Music. Released in 1965 on the Swallow label, out of Ville Platte, LA, this album helped plant the seeds for the Cajun/Creole renaissance of the next decade, and reinforced the popularity of such songs as "Tit Galop Pour Mamou," and "Parlez-nous a boire." Balfa came to be regarded as an important spokesperson for Cajun culture, receiving a National Heritage Fellowship. Since his death this role has been taken on by his daughter, Christine, and her band, Balfa Toujours.

Dewey Balfa

BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet

Cajun [1951 - ]
Founded by fiddler Michael Doucet in 1975, in Lafayette, BeauSoleil has played a key role in the on-going Cajun / Creole cultural renaissance. In the early 1970s Michael Doucet began researching traditional Cajun music and visiting elderly fiddlers such as Luderin Darbone of The Hackberry Ramblers. While learning from these masters Doucet also infused Cajun music with such modern influences such as rock and jazz. This approach exposed young audiences to the Cajun legacy, brought new popularity to old songs, and created a lot of music that was brand-new. Over 25 years and nearly 25 albums later, this Grammy-winning band remains active and innovative. Michael Doucet has also recorded as a featured soloist with a wide variety of other artists. His brother David Doucet is an accomplished acoustic guitarist who has released several solo albums.

American Routes / Browse by Artist (audio).

Rosebud / Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet

Boozoo Chavis

Creole / zydeco [1930 - 2001]
Zydeco accordionist Boozoo Chavis played in an old-fashioned, rural style with roots in the house-dance tradition known as "la-la." Chavis' hard-driving Afro-Caribbean rhythms made him a favorite on the Creole dancehall circuit. He recorded zydeco's first commercial hit, "Paper In My Shoe," in 1954. Disgusted with the business side of music, he stopped performing for 30 years and worked instead training race-horses. His return in the 1980s helped fuel the zydeco resurgence, and, curiously, paved the way for the rap-influenced zydeco nouveau of the 1990s. Chavis was recognized with a National Heritage Fellowship but, sadly, he passed away before the award was presented.

American Routes / Browse by Artist (audio).

Clifton Chenier

Creole / zydeco [1925 - 1987]

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In the late 1940s accordionist Clifton Chenier began to craft the definitive zydeco sound that still sets today's standard. He did so by blending Afro-Caribbean folk forms such as juré music with the hits of the day in mainstream African-American music - rhythm & blues hits by such the likes of Fats Domino, Louis Jordan, and Ray Charles. Chenier adapted this material to the accordion and sang it, for the most part, in Creole French. Beyond these innovations, Chenier's skill as an accordionist has yet to be surpassed. A contract with the California-based Arhoolie label brought him world-wide exposure in the 1960s. By the late 1970s Chenier's career accelerated dramatically, while the 1980s saw him honored with both a Grammy award and a National Heritage Fellowship. Chenier summed up the appeal and purpose of his music quite simply: "If you can't dance to zydeco, you can't dance - period."

Welcome to Zydeco Kingdom / Tribute to Clifton Chenier (audio)

Cookie and the Cupcakes

Swamp Pop [led by Huey "Cookie" Thierry, 1936 - 1997]
Swamp pop is a South Louisiana hybrid of rhythm & blues and early rock with Cajun music and zydeco. It uses the same song structures as rock and rhythm & blues from around the nation, but is set apart by intense, emotional singing. Perhaps the best-known and biggest national hit in this genre was Phil Phillips' &nquot;Sea of Love," released in 1959. But the most popular swamp pop group on the Louisiana / Texas circuit was Cookie and the Cupcakes. Led by singer Huey "Cookie" Thierry, their regional hits included "Mathilda" and "Got You On My Mind," which remain every bit as popular today.

Goldband Records / Cookie and the Cupcakes

Stanley Dural, Jr. (aka "Buckwheat Zydeco")

Zydeco [1947 - ]
Living legend, Buckwheat Zydeco, has a number of firsts to his credit. He was the first zydeco musician to sign to a major record label, establish his own record label, perform on national television; and release a children's album-amongst many other accolades. Born Stanley Dural, Jr., in Lafayette, Louisiana, he grew up with an affinity for R&B and funk music. Fats Domino was just one of his many influences. Dural is a skilled keyboardist, pianist, organist, and accordionist. But it was not until much later in his musical career that he gained an appreciation for the music that was the colorful backdrop to his upbringing. His father, an accomplished zydeco artist in his own right, encouraged him to embrace the music of his culture. Buckwheat eventually heeded, and apprenticed under one of zydeco's greats, Clifton Chenier. He played keyboard in Chenier's Red Hot Louisiana Band for a few years before branching out and establishing his own zydeco band, Buckwheat Zydeco and the Ils Sont Partis Band (1979). Dural's style is a unique blend of zydeco and contemporary music. His musical career has taken off like a jet. He is one of the few musicians in his genre to achieve mainstream success with 15 LPs to his credit, numerous top tens, and four Grammy nominations. His songs have been featured in many motion pictures and television commercials-not to mention he has collaborated with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam, Mavis Staples, and David Hidalgo. Additionally, he performed at the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics, and both of President Clinton's inaugurals.

Buckwheat Zydeco Official Site

Mary Rosezla "Rosie" Ledet

Zydeco [1971 - ]
A refreshing voice to the zydeco circuit, Rosie Ledet, began her musical career in the mid-1980s. She brings to the male-dominated genre zest, youth, and spicy femininity. Ledet is a native of Church Point, Louisiana. Seeing legendary Boozoo Chavis perform at a dance sparked her interest in Zydeco. From then on she felt pulled by the rhythms, and took to practicing on her husband's accordion and watching him in action. After some refinement, she proved to be proficient enough to perform in her husband's band, and now has a band of her own, Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys. She describes her style as "sped-up blues." Others say that her style is traditional. She sings in both English and Creole French and writes most of her songs. Thus far she has five albums to her credit-all of which are produced on the Maison de Soul label from Floyd's Records in Ville Platte. She performs regularly at festivals and has toured throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Offbeat Magazine awarded her three Best of the Best Awards, and she scored number one on KVOL with, "I'm Gonna Take Care of Your Dog<." Her latest cd is entitled Now's the Time (2003).

Iry LeJeune

Cajun [1928 - 1955]
Cajun music is usually associated with the accordion. But the accordion faded from prominence during the 1930s and 1940s due to the influence of British-American country music and the popularity of electronically-amplified fiddles. The accordion became popular again after World War II, however, thanks in large part to Iry LeJeune, whose mastery of the instrument was matched by the soulful intensity of his high-pitched vocal style. Many songs recorded by LeJeune, including "J'etais au bal," "Lacassine Special" and "The 99-Year Waltz" have become perennial, popular favorites in the Cajun repertoire. A native of Point Noir, near Church Point, LeJeune died at the age of 27; his son, Eddie, maintained the family's musical tradition until his untimely death in 2001.

J'ai Ete Au Bal / Iry LeJeune (audios)

D. L. Menard

Cajun [1932 - ]
Guitarist and songwriter D. L. Menard is a staunch Cajun traditionalist who also reinforces the connection between Cajun music and British-American country. Known as "the Cajun Hank Williams" for such original songs as "La porte d'en arriere," Menard has toured the world and recorded with such prominent colleagues as Dewey Balfa, Marc Savoy, and Eddie LeJeune. A National Heritage Fellowship recipient, Menard's band has served as an informal music school for such important young talents as fiddler Ken Smith and accordionist Horace Trahan.

River of Song / D.L. Menard with Christine Balfa (audio, video)

Irvan Perez

Isleño [1923 - ]

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Not far from the urban bustle of New Orleans, the coastal marshes of St. Bernard Parish are home to a small ethnic enclave known as the Isleños. Descendants of Spanish-speaking immigrants from the Canary Islands, the Isleño community has retained a rich tradition of a capella songs known as décimas that are sung in 18th-century Spanish. Some of these songs date from that era and before, while others are contemporary, original, and spontaneously composed on the spot. Irvan Perez is a renowned singer of décimas, and a dedicated guardian of a cultural tradition that is threatened by the spread of suburbia. Perez' artistry and dedication earned him a National Heritage Fellowship.

Isleño Décimas / Boatbuilding (video)

River of Song / Irvan and Alan Perez (audio, video)

Steve Riley

Cajun [1969 - ]

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Accordionist Steve Riley represents the second generation of the Cajun/Creole resurgence that began with bands such as BeauSoleil. A disciple of Dewey Balfa, Riley began leading his own band, the Mamou Playboys, in 1988, along with fiddler David Greely. The group was quickly acclaimed as champions of traditionalism, and received a Grammy nomination in the Traditional Folk category. In recent years Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys have expanded their repertoire to include both zydeco and rock music with futuristic electronic effects; this has broadened their audience but troubled some purists. The eclectic Riley is also a member of the popular swamp pop group Lil' Band 'o' Gold.

American Routes / Browse by Artist (audio).

Steve Riley and The Mamou Playboys

Marc Savoy

Cajun [1940 - ]
An impassioned, outspoken cultural activist and National Heritage Fellowship recipient, accordionist Marc Savoy has played Cajun music since the 1950s, and built highly-sought accordions since the '60s. A staunch traditionalist, he has watched the resurgence of Cajun and Creole music with mixed emotions and a strong disdain for commercial exploitation. During the 1960s and 1970s Savoy toured and recorded with such notable artists as Dewey Balfa and D. L. Menard. In the 1980s he formed the Savoy-Doucet Band with his wife, Ann - a renowned musician, author and producer in her own right - on guitar and vocals, and Michael Doucet on fiddle. Nearly the two decades later the band is still going strong now includes a second generation with sons Wilson on keyboards and Jo-el on fiddle.

Marc Savoy and Ward Lormand Apprenticeship

Terrance Simien

Zydeco [1965 - ]

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Zydeco visionary, Terrence Simien, was born and raised in "The Capitol of Zydeco Music," Mallet, Louisiana. This small-town wonder started his musical endeavors on the family piano, and eventually acquired a pallet for the trumpet and accordion. Listening to zydeco radio shows, proved useful in shaping his talent. His vocal stylings have been compared to the likes of Sam Cooke, Al Green, and Aaron Neville. Aside from his 3-octave voice, Simien is well known for his innovative approach to the genre-mixing the old with the new to cultivate a sound that is like no other. Fans describe his performances as electrifying. And as a 22-year veteran in the field, one can be certain that he has acquired quite a large fanfare. He has performed in over 25 countries, and has a plethora of honors that just might outnumber the beads he tosses to devoted fans at his shows. Rolling Stone, Billboard, and Offbeat Magazines have given him rave reviews. The first large-scale venue he performed at was the World's Fair in New Orleans (1984). He and his band also perform at countless festivals, including the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Simien has collaborated with and performed with a number of well-known artists including Paul Simon, The Dave Matthews Band, Steve Wonder, and Dennis Quaid. His arts-in-education initiative, Creole for Kidz, is also winning acclaim. It is an effort targeted to teach K-12 students the history of zydeco. As an active member of The Recording Academy, Simien is making strides to establish a Zydeco and Cajun music Grammy category.

Terrance Simien's Official Website

Blues On Stage

Lucinda Williams

Contemporary Country [1951 - ]

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A native of Lake Charles and a former resident of both Lafayette and New Orleans, Lucinda Williams' original songs use such South Louisiana traditions as Cajun music and zydeco, blues, country, and swamp pop as stylistic points of departure. In addition Williams' articulate lyrics refer frequently to Louisiana locales and cultural traditions. This contemporary yet folk-rooted approach - as heard on such songs as "Lake Charles," "Crescent City" and "My Sweet Lafayette" - has brought Williams great artistic respect and commercial success.

Lucinda Williams, Official Site

For a list of additional Louisiana musicians who could be researched, see Some Louisiana Musicians.