Chapter 4 ’Garde ici et ’garde lá-bas: Creole Accordion in Louisiana
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4 ’Garde ici et ’garde lá-bas Creole Accordion in Louisiana jared snyder AnyefforttotracethehistoryanddevelopmentofLouisianaCreoleaccordionmust first take on the task of defining the term “Creole” in the context of Louisiana. It mayseemasimpletask:takeMarkDeWitt’sdefinitionforCajunaccordioninthe previous chapter, and what does not fall under Cajun is Creole. However, Creole is too layered and nuanced a term for such a simple definition. Derived from the Portuguesecrioulo,itoncesimplymeant“native-born,”asinacropsuchasCreole garlic or Creole tomatoes, or in delineating between immigrants and those born in Louisiana. After becoming part of the United States in 1803, those of Spanish andFrenchheritageself-identifiedasCreolestodistinguishthemselvesfromthe influx of English-speaking and, to their eyes, crude Americans. Seeing a commonality of religion and language, American observers expanded the grouping to include merchants, tradesmen, laborers, servants, and slaves among Creoles. Creoles’ collective syncretic culture recombined elements from French, Native American,andAfricancultures,especiallyBambara,resultinginauniqueCreole culturedistinguishedbyitslanguage,foodways,andmusic.Facedwiththechoice of either inclusion in a multiracial group or forced identification with the crass Americans, most white Creoles distanced themselves from Creole identity, leaving the term to solely represent those of a nonwhite background. WhiledifferencesexistbetweentheCreolecommunitiesofNewOrleans,River Parishes, the Cane River region around Natchitoches, and those within the socalledAcadianTriangleintheSouthwest (betweenPortArthur,Texas,tothewest, Mamou to the north, and Lafayette to the east), all fall within an inclusive definitionthatencompassesthosewhohavesomeAfricanlineage ,historicallyspokena 67 ’Garde ici et ’garde lá-bas: Creole Accordion in Louisiana language with Gallic and African antecedents, and mainly practiced Catholicism. In terms of accordion styles, this eliminates Gallic-based traditions that synthesizedAfricanelements ,suchasCajun,andalsopurelyAfricanAmericanstyleslike that played in northwestern Louisiana by Lead Belly (a.k.a. Huddie Ledbetter).1 It is within the Creole communities in the southern part of the state, including New Orleans, that we find the source of the Creole accordion tradition. Music and dancing has always been an integral component of the social life of southern Louisiana. Writers visiting colonial New Orleans and its environs commented on the nightly social dances, where Creole musicians provided accompanimentwhilefreemen watched from designatedareas,joinedclandestinelyby slaves. Later, these same musicians performed for dances in their own community . By the early nineteenth century, the dominant dance, not only in Louisiana but across the French colonies and former colonies, was the quadrille.2 This “set Figure 4.1  Sketch of a dance witnessed at Belair Plantation in 1887 (by Edward Windsor Kemble). This illustration is included in an article titled “Sugar-Making in Louisiana” by Eugene V. Smalley. The artist replaced the triangle described by the writer with a cello. Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine 35.1 (November 1887). 68 jared snyder dance”hasfivedistinctfigures,originallybasedonpopularFrenchcontradanses, with music made up of eight- or sixteen-bar themes, repeated as many times as wasnecessaryuntilthefourtoeightcouplescompletedthesteps.3 Akonmandé,or caller,announcesthestepsusingcallsthatpunctuateandaccenttherhythm.The GuadeloupeanmusicologistMarcelS.Mavounzyseesthequadrilleasrepresenting true Creole culture. Slaves deprived of their own dances adapted the quadrille, transforming it into a much more rhythmic dance than its European roots, but a moreformaldancethanitsAfricanantecedents.4 OntheCreole-speakingislands ofHaiti,Martinique,Dominica,andGuadeloupe,thepopularmelodyinstrument foraccompanyingquadrilleswasthebuttonaccordion.5 Thevolumeoftheinstrument allowed it to carry across a room full of dancers and over the accompanying rhythmic instruments. In South Louisiana, both freeman and slave danced the quadrille. Virginia Newman, who was freeborn but apprenticed at the home of Governor Foster in Franklin, danced the quadrilles to the sounds of the accordion.6 Adeline White, a slave in Opelousas, danced set dances complete with a caller, likely quadrilles, to the accompaniment of accordion and violin.7 Fred Brown, a slave born in Baton Rouge,alsohearddancesaccompaniedbyaccordionandbanjo.8 JonathanCadeat Southern University collected similar reminisces of accordions used for musical accompaniment at slave dances.9 Quadrilles continued to be popular dances in the post–Civil War years, and often the accompaniment included an accordion.10 The earliest image extant of an accordionist is a daguerreotype dated from the early 1850s, taken in a photo studio in New Orleans. A seated, well-dressed black manplaysaFrench-styleaccordion,probablyaBussonandknowninthelocalvernacularasaflutina .Althoughaccordionswereusedaspropsinsomephotostudios, this man looks comfortable and ready to play. The first accordionist identified by name was Justin Follis, a black Civil War recruit from the New Orleans suburb of CarroltonwhodrownedintheRedRiverin1865,leavinghisten-buttontwo-stop Germandiatonicaccordionbehind.11 By1867,therewasenoughaccordionbusinessinNewOrleansfortheaccordionbuilderFredrickChristentosetupshopat 11 South Rampart.12 The Prussian immigrant’s shop served a city under dramatic change as thousands of newly freed slaves arrived in the city, needing accordions for quadrilles, gospel, and even voodoo ceremonies.13 This swelling population created a demand for string instruments as well, and someofthatdemandwasmetbyaCreoleaccordionistandbandleadernamedWilliamHenryPeyton (1856–1905).Healsoranasmallmusicshopwherehebuiltand repairedstringinstruments,andhewasperhapstheonlyAfricanAmericanluthier working in his own shop in the nineteenth century.14 He first advertised himself as a musician in the 1884 city directory and continued to do so...


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