We launched the Only Louisiana blog about a year ago with a crash course in Louisiana music for our state’s visitors. In addition to being one of the top two draws for travelers (the other being our cuisine), it’s the most familiar Louisiana offering among folks abroad and our most readily available export.
Unless you avoid music altogether, then you have likely heard, read about or already own Louisiana music, even if you didn’t realize it. There is so much of it out there, due to the sheer number of notable Louisiana artists present in recording history, the multiple genres represented and the popularity and commercial success. That’s why music fans target Louisiana as a travel destination—they can experience the music where it was born and where it still flourishes.
I set out with a task to offer music fans a short list of must-have Louisiana music for their personal libraries, but I quickly realized this is not only arduous to create but also laced with what die-hard music fans (including myself) would deem as glaring omissions. In order to keep the task manageable, I’m going to hone this list using the criterion of Louisiana artists with music recognized by the Grammy Awards.
Earning a Grammy is the highest achievement for artists in the American music industry, and Louisiana has been very well represented in both nominations and wins since the awards were created in the late 1950s. You simply can’t go wrong with a best of or greatest hits compilation from the following Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winners: Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton (jazz), Fats Domino and Buddy Guy (rhythm and blues); Jerry Lee Lewis (rock ‘n’ roll); Clifton Chenier (zydeco); Mahalia Jackson (gospel); and Van Cliburn (classical).
If you expand that list to include some of Louisiana’s Grammy Hall of Fame members, you can add works by Sidney Bechet, King Oliver and Louis Prima (jazz); Lead Belly, Percy Mayfield and Slim Harpo (R&B); and especially Jimmie Davis (country). His biggest hit, You Are My Sunshine, is Louisiana’s official state song and is said to be the most recognized melody and lyrics after Happy Birthday.
Lastly, here are some Grammy winners and nominees found in my personal music library. My Louisiana playlist mostly features artists who still tour in Louisiana and abroad, and most of these artists and acts can be seen performing at major Louisiana music venues and music festivals each year.
From my collection: Tab Benoit, Sonny Landreth, The Meters, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Dr. John, Aaron Neville, Professor Longhair and the Neville Brothers (R&B); Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience, Corey Ledet and His Zydeco Band and Rockin’ Dopsie (zydeco); BeauSoleil, the Lost Bayou Ramblers and the Pine Leaf Boys (Cajun); Wynton Marsalis, Irvin Mayfield, the Hot 8 Brass Band and the Rebirth Brass Band (jazz); and Brooks & Dunn, Trace Adkins and Tim McGraw (country). And lastly, if you enjoy traditional Christmas music, not only are Harry Connick Jr.’s holiday albums exceptional, but Vince Vance & the Valiants’ All I Want for Christmas is You is also the most played Christmas song on country radio.