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Lesson

Cajun and Zydeco: Race, Class, and Music

Cajun and Zydeco Music: Flavors of Southwest Louisiana / Cajun and Zydeco: Race, Class, and Music

A complex history of race and class relations is embedded in the development of Cajun and zydeco music. While the ancestral and ethnic origins of the Cajuns are relatively straightforward, the origin of Creole identity is less clearly defined. Although the Cajuns and Creoles were once divided along racial lines, the class divide has been quite porous. Cajuns and Creoles have lived next to each other for hundreds of years. This has led to a rich cultural exchange that is responsible for the birth and ongoing growth of today’s Cajun and zydeco music cultures. In fact, the music has helped to promote a surge in cultural pride for Cajuns and Creoles alike for the past 50 years. This lesson examines the complex effects of race and class relations on the development of Cajun and zydeco music and the similarities and differences between Cajun and Creole cultural identities. Recordings by artists whose music exemplifies the impact of race and class in Louisiana provide an ideal lens through which to reflect upon one’s own cultural identity.

Lesson Components & Learning Objectives

  1. Who are Cajuns and Creoles?

    • Explain the similarities and differences between Cajun and Creole ancestry, culture, and music.
    • 30+ minutes
  2. A Cajun & Zydeco Partnership: McGee & Ardoin

    • Identify the ways in which Dennis McGee and Amédé Ardoin used musical elements and expressive qualities in their collaborations.
    • 30+ minutes
  3. Music and Cultural Identity

    • Consider several important elements of your own cultural identity and the ways in which cultural identity can be reflected through music.
    • 30+ minutes

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Bibliography

Text

Ardoin, Amédé, composer. "Blues De Basile," lyrics. In I'm Never Comin' Back. Arhoolie Records, 1995. Lyrics Transcribed by Mollie Farr.

Ardoin, Amédé and Dennis McGee, composers. "Madam Atchen," lyrics. In J'ai été au bal (I Went to the Dance) Vol. 1. Arhoolie Records, 1990. Lyrics Transcribed by Mollie Farr.

Bernard, Shane K. n.d. “Cajuns.” 64 Parishes. Accessed March 18, 2022.

Bernard, Shane K. n.d. “Creoles.” 64 Parishes. Accessed March 18, 2022. https://64parishes.org/entry/creoles.

Brasseaux, Carl A. 1996. "Creoles of Color in Louisiana's Bayou Country, 1766-1877." In Creoles of Color of the Gulf South, edited by James H. Dormon, 67-86. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press.

DeWitt, Mark F. 2008. Cajun and Zydeco Dance Music in Northern California: Modern Pleasures in a Postmodern World. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.

Dole, Gerard. 1978. “Louisiana Creole Music.” Liner Notes for Louisiana Creole Music. Folkways Records FW02622.

Doucet, Michael. 1995. “Amédé Ardoin’s Blues.” Liner Notes for Ardoin, Amédé. I’m Never Comin’ Back. Arhoolie Records ARH07007.

Farr, Mollie. "Exploring Cultural Identity through Music," 2021, worksheet. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Farr, Mollie. "Student Listening Log," 2021, worksheet. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Farr, Mollie. "Student Listening Log - Madam Atchen Rubric," 2021, worksheet. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Farr, Mollie. "Student Listening Log Rubric - Blues De Basile," 2021, worksheet. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo. 1992. Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

Learning for Justice. "My Multicultural Self," worksheet. Learning for Justice, n.d.

Ledet, Jennifer. 2011, June 8. “Lache Pas la Patate! (Don’t Drop the Potato!)People Problems…Solved (blog). Ledet Management.

Louisiana Division of the Arts. n.d. “Folklife in Louisiana.” Accessed March 18, 2022.

Spitzer, Nick. 1987. “Lache Pas la Patate: French in Louisiana.” Smithsonian Folklife Festival Program Book: 32–36.

"Paper in My Shoe," trad., lyrics. In The Lake Charles Atomic Bomb, As performed by Boozoo Chavis. Rounder Records Corporation, 2006. Lyrics Transcribed by Mollie Farr.

Tregle, Joseph G., Jr. 1992. "Creoles and Americans." In Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization, edited by Arnold R. Hirsch and Joseph Logsdon, 131-185. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press.

Audio*

Landreneau, Cyprien and Adam Landreneau. "La Valse De Denus McGee." On Cajun Fais-Do-Do, recorded 1966. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, ARH00416_119, 1995, streaming audio.

Creole Belles. "Bernadette," Canray Fontenont, arr. On Cajun and Creole Traditional Music, recorded 2007. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, ARH00535_101, 2008, streaming audio.

Les Amis Creole. "Lake Charles Waltz." On Les Amis Creole. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, ARH00529_102, 2006, streaming audio.

Ardoin, Amédé and Dennis McGee. "Madame Atchen." On J'ai été au bal (I Went to the Dance) Vol. 1, recorded 1929. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, ARH00331_112, 1990, streaming audio.

Ardoin, Amédé. "Blues De Basile." On I'm Never Comin' Back, recorded 1930. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, ARH07007_103, 1995, streaming audio.

Chenier, Clifton. "Paper in My Shoe." On Clifton Sings the Blues, recorded 1969. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, ARH00351_108, 1992, streaming audio.

Abshire, Nathan and The Balfa Brothers. "Paper in My Shoes." On Cajun Fais-Do-Do, recorded 1966. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, ARH00416_111, 1995, streaming audio.

Lewis, Etienne. "Du Papier Dans Mon Soulier." On Louisiana Creole Music. New York City, NY: Folkways Records, FW02622_204, 1978, streaming audio.

Farr, Mollie. "Pronunciation Recordings: Lesson 4," recorded 2021. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, streaming audio.

Images*

Brainen, Howard. "Clifton Chenier," photograph. In Louisiana Blues and Zydeco, Wayne Pope, cover design. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, 2005, cover image.

Shahn, Ben. "Creole Girls, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana," October, 1935, photograph negative. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives.

Heil, Karen Celia, designer. Cajun and Creole Traditional Music, by the Creole Belles. Brian MacDougal, photographer. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, 2008, album cover.

Lee, Russell. "Negro Musicians Playing Accordion and Washboard in Front of Store, near New Iberia, Louisiana," November 1938, photograph negative. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives.

Pope, Wayne, designer. Cajun Music Pioneer, by Joe Falcon. Chris Strachwitz, photographer. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, 1997, album cover.

Epop Productions, designer. Uncle Bud Zydeco, by John Delafose. Chris Strachwitz, photographer. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, 1983, album cover.

Lee, Russell. "Negro Laborers Employed by Joseph La Blanc, Wealthy Cajun Farmer, Crowley, Louisiana, with Possum and Birds They Shot," November 1938, photograph negative. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives.

Lee, Russell. "Cajun Sugarcane Farmer with Daughter, near New Iberia, Louisiana," October 1938, photograph negative. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives.

Mueller, Klaus (Mikmaq). "Acadia Map 1754," digital image. Wikimedia Commons, 2018.

Strachwitz, Chris. "Cyp and Adam Landreneau with Band," ca. 1966, photograph. In Cajun Fais Do-Do , Wayne Pope, cover design. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, 1995.

Unknown photographer. "Cajun Musicians at the First Folklife Festival," 1967, photograph. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Lee, Russell. "Large Cajun Family on Farm South of Crowley, Louisiana," October 1938, photograph negative. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives.

Lee, Russell. "Fisherman's Home Along the Bayou, Akers, Louisiana," October 1938, photograph negative. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives.

Lee, Russell. "Detail of Construction of Hundred-Year-Old House in Which Aged Cajun Couple Are Living, near Crowley, Louisiana," November 1938, photograph negative. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives.

Clyne, Ronald, designer. Cajun Home Music. Lee Russell, photographer, 1938. New York City, NY: Folkways Records, 1977, album cover.

Dodge, Morgan, designer. Les Amis Creole. Philip Gould, photographer. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, 2006, album cover.

Elevatorrailfan. "Louisiana Creole Flag," digital image. Wikimedia Commons, 2018.

Lee, Russell. "Negro Family Moving, Opelousas, Louisiana," October 1938, photograph negative. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives.

Lee, Russell. "Negro Intrastate Migrant Worker, Italian Grower and His Wife Picking Berries in Field near Hammond, Louisiana," April 1939, photograph negative. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives.

Weil, Elizabeth, designer. Allons a Lafayette & More, by Beausoleil. Elemore Morgan Jr., photographer. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, 1989, album cover.

Frey, Carol. "Amédé Ardoin and Dennis Mcgee," digital image. Pinterest, n.d.

Strachwitz, Chris. "Dennis McGee," photograph. In J'ai été au bal (I Went to the Dance) Vol. 1, Chris Strachwitz and Maureen Gosling, soundtrack and text editors. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, 1990, p. 2.

Unknown photographer. "Amédé Ardoin," photograph. In Long-Lost Love Songs from a Cajun Music Pioneer, story by NPR Staff. Boston, MA: WBUR News, April 23, 2011. Courtesy of Christopher King.

Whiting, Russel. "Amédé Ardoin Statue," forged steel statue. Opelousas, LA: St. Landry Parish, ca. 2018. Photo courtesy of the St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission.

Savoy, Ann A., designer. "I'm Never Coming Back, by Amédé Ardoin. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, 1995, album cover.

Pope, Wayne, designer. Clifton Chenier Sings the Blues. Edmund Shea, photographer. El Cerrito, CA: Arhoolie Records, 2004, album cover.

* Audio, video, and images listed in order of slideshow sequence.