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Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana

The 1934 Lomax Recordings

Joshua Clegg Caffery. foreword by Barry Jean Ancelet

Publication Year: 2013

Alan Lomax's prolific sixty-four-year career as a folklorist and musicologist began with a trip across the South and into the heart of Louisiana's Cajun country during the height of the Great Depression. In 1934, his father John, then curator of the Library of Congress's Archive of American Folk Song, took an eighteen-year-old Alan and a 300-pound aluminum disk recorder into the rice fields of Jennings, along the waterways of New Iberia, and behind the gates of Angola State Penitentiary to collect vestiges of African American and Acadian musical tradition. These recordings now serve as the foundational document of indigenous Louisiana music.

Although widely recognized by scholars as a key artifact in the understanding of American vernacular music, most of the recordings by John and Alan Lomax during their expedition across the central-southern fringe of Louisiana were never transcribed or translated, much less studied in depth. This volume presents, for the first time, a comprehensive examination of the 1934 corpus and unveils a multifaceted story of traditional song in one of the country's most culturally dynamic regions.

Through his textual and comparative study of the songs contained in the Lomax collection, Joshua Clegg Caffery provides a musical history of Louisiana that extends beyond Cajun music and zydeco to the rural blues, Irish and English folk songs, play-party songs, slave spirituals, and traditional French folk songs that thrived at the time of these recordings.

Intimate in its presentation of Louisiana folklife and broad in its historical scope, Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana honors the legacy of John and Alan Lomax by retrieving these musical relics from obscurity and ensuring their understanding and appreciation for generations to come.


� Complete transcriptions of the 1934 Lomax field recordings in southwestern Louisiana

� Side-by-side translations from French to English

� Photographs from the 1934 field trip and biographical details about the performers

Published by: Louisiana State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-9


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pp. 10-15

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pp. xv-xviii

...When I became involved in the production of the first Tribute to Cajun Music concert in 1974, an event that eventually evolved into what is now known as Festivals Acadiens et Créoles, I found myself working with Ralph Rinzler, then director of the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Ralph had earlier been the fieldworker for the Newport Folk Festival responsible for inviting Cajun musicians there in 1964. Rinzler had been influenced by his contact with Alan Lomax...

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pp. xix-xxii

...My sincere thanks go, first of all, to the Department of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, which provided me funding for three years through a University Fellowship, a≠ording me the opportunity to do this work. Along the same lines, I would like to thank Dr. Charlie Skipper and Dr. Paul Baker of the Episcopal School of Acadiana, where I had the good fortune to be employed while completing the last steps of this project. At ESA, esteemed colleagues Scott Jordan, Stuart Cornwell...

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pp. 1-6

...In the summer of 1934 the two central figures of American folk song collecting, John Lomax and his son Alan, ventured into Louisiana’s southern parishes. The resulting collection constitutes the foundational record of the area’s vernacular music. Undertaken at the dawn of the era of recorded sound, the Lomax collection continues to provide the best glimpse of the origins of south Louisiana’s vernacular musical culture...

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Jig, Juré, and Geste

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pp. 7-14

...The Lomax collection is the most extensive document of oral poetry and vernacular musical style in rural southern Louisiana in the early twentieth century. This brief essay sketches the complex generic nature of the repertoire. I have divided the material into five categories: traditional French song, African American song, English and American folk song, Cajun and Creole music, and instrumentals. Although there will, of necessity, be considerable overlap (there are instrumental songs we might...

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A Note on the Transcriptions and Translations

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pp. 15-16

...Many of the songs presented here have been previously transcribed and, in some cases, translated. My work is indebted to these e≠orts, and I have provided a detailed list of previous transcriptions in appendix C. In some instances I saw it necessary to update transcriptions and to re-translate previously translated materials. The translations in Lomax’s...

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Acadia Parish

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pp. 17-49

...Next to nothing is known about Sansey Bonnet, other than the Lomaxes’ audio notation: “These songs, these old Acadian songs were sung to us by Mrs. Sansey Bonnet, who lives near Crowley, Louisiana, in the country. She’s known these songs ever since she was a young girl” (AFS 30 B). With the exception of “La Belle et le capitaine,” which she...

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East Baton Rouge Parish

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pp. 50-53

...In Baton Rouge, the Lomaxes recorded three Louisiana State University students, Hosea Phillips, Eraste Vidrine, and Hart Perrodin, all originally from Evangeline Parish. Although the Library of Congress card catalog ascribes the four songs from the session presented here to Perrodin and Vidrine, Phillips sings the two a cappella numbers, “Baiolle” and “Depuis à l’âge de quinze ans,” while Perrodin and Vidrine perform Cajun waltzes, accompanying themselves on twin fiddles on “Grand Basile...

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Iberia Parish

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pp. 54-183

...No one named Sam Ballard appears in the census rolls in southern Louisiana in the first half of the nineteenth century. As is the case with many performers recorded by the Lomaxes, the Archive of American Folk Song may be one of the few tangible records of his existence. After one of Ballard’s performances, John Lomax announces, “These songs have been sung by ‘Old Dad’ of New Iberia, Louisiana, on June...

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Jefferson Davis Parish

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pp. 184-215

...The identities of Cleveland Benoit and Darby Hicks remain a mystery. No one named Cleveland Benoit appears in the Je≠erson Davis census rolls during the 1920s or 1930s. Darby Hicks, in turn, is almost certainly a pseudonym. Like Blind Boy Grunt or John Wesley Harding, “Darby Hicks” was a fictitious name adopted by early jazz musicians when they made recordings that were prohibited by the terms of previous...

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Lafayette Parish

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pp. 216-233

...Willis Ducrest, who later became a central figure in the development of the University of Louisiana’s music school, recorded one song for the Lomaxes in 1934, when he would have been approximately twenty-three years old. A nationally recognized composer and teacher of classical music and a longtime professor in the University of Southwestern Louisiana’s music department, Ducrest was born in St. Martinville...

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St. Landry Parish

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pp. 234-236

...song-hunting trip with the Lomaxes in French Louisiana. “We first went to Crowley,” she recalls, “where we secured for the day the services of a man who was supposed to know everyone in the Marais Bouleur district, northeast of Crowley, a place reputed to have good Cajun singers” (1939, 17). The only recordings made by the Lomaxes in 1934 near the infamous Marais Bouleur—a territory straddling...

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St. Martin Parish

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pp. 237-246

...The recordings of Joe Massey at the Levert St. John sugar plantation are among the most virtuosic and enigmatic in the 1934 Lomax collection. Highly melodic and largely improvised, Massey’s performances are closer to improvised satirical and ceremonial Haitian chants than to anything else recorded in rural Louisiana. As in much Caribbean Creole singing, Massey’s improvisations are agonistic and lyrically engaged...


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pp. 270-281

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St. Mary Parish

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pp. 247-255

...Living in the small settlement of Amelia when he was recorded by the Lomaxes, John Bray was born in Royal Ville, Louisiana, on Christmas Day in 1888. He also lived for some time in Ramos (a small community between Morgan City and Amelia), where he worked for the Ramos Lumber Company, one of south Louisiana’s largest early-twentieth-century...

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Vermilion Parish

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pp. 256-282

...Cousins Fenelon Brasseaux and Isaac and Cleveland Sonnier of Erath performed a number of traditional French songs for the Lomaxes, mostly drinking and wedding songs. Popular singers at local wedding celebrations, the Brasseaux/Sonnier cousins perform songs that appear in accounts of traditional wedding rituals in rural France. Young men at the time of the recording, they also sing a...

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West Feliciana Parish(Angola State Penitentiary)

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pp. 283-285

...Little is known about Oakdale Carrière, other than that he was a prisoner at Angola State Penitentiary in the 1930s. Although Angola, in West Feliciana Parish, lies outside the scope of this project, Carrière’s Creole French and his impressive accordion technique in the vein of Amédée Ardoin strongly suggest that he originally hailed from the Acadiana area...

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Unidentified Location

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pp. 286-289

...The Lomaxes list the location for this recording session as Lloyd (or Loyd), Louisiana. Although there is no o∞cial Lloyd or Loyd settlement in Louisiana, the name here may refer to the Loyd Hall Plantation, a large plantation near Cheneyville. Many rural areas in Louisiana continue to bear local names taken from forgotten plantation designations...

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Instrumental Music

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pp. 290-296

...Apparently played on a diatonic C accordion, this is a melodic analogue of the song known as “The Perrodin Two-Step.” Considered a tour-de-force, the “Perrodin” is known as one of the more di∞cult accordion instrumentals, and it was and continues to be a favorite at accordion contests in southern Louisiana. Although more often associated with the Cajun repertoire, Carrière’s performance of this song reflects the intertwined...

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p. 297-297

...In 1934 radio was just emerging as a dominant medium in southern Louisiana, the first statewide broadcasts having begun in the mid-1920s. By 1934 Huey Long was reaching national audiences by radio, and the nascent recording industry was just beginning to take advantage of the new means of distribution. The Lomaxes saw the influence of radio as corrosive, a threat to pristine folk traditions they...


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pp. 298-302

Appendix A

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pp. 303-304

Appendix B

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pp. 305-308

Appendix C

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pp. 309-311

Appendix D

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pp. 312-318

Works Cited

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pp. 319-334


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pp. 335-346

E-ISBN-13: 9780807152027
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807152010

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 12 halftones
Publication Year: 2013