Several significant historical figures come to mind in February during Black History Month but for many devout Louisiana music fans, another name rings true to the importance of this annual observance—Amédé Ardoin.
It’s a lesser known term today, but in the ‘20s and ‘30s, sharecroppers would host a house dance, also known to the Creole community as a la-la. This is where a stylized form of French Creole music was born, and how Amédé Ardoin made his mark in Louisiana history. Both Cajun and zydeco music derived from this early sound and both genres credit Ardoin as one of the main influences in shaping the foundation of Louisiana music. Amédé traveled as a for-hire musician through communities near Eunice playing for a dollar to $2.50 a house dance. He was known for reeling in huge crowds and his singing voice could endure for hours without backup. The only assistance needed was a lemon, which was always kept in his pocket to warm up his vocal cords.
Fortunately for Amédé and other folk artists of the time, there was a surge of interest in American roots music during this era. Music labels were in search of something unique, which is exactly what they found when Columbia records recorded Amédé and his partner Dennis McGee, an unlikely duo. On December 9, 1929, history was made when a black Creole accordionist and a white Cajun fiddler recorded six songs in New Orleans for the label. In his interview with Ann Savoy, printed in her book, “Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People,” Dennis speaks fondly of Amédé recalling, “He played and sang well. He had a song where he’d really pull…it made me shake when he would start singing.” It is believed that their partnership blurred the lines between Cajun and Creole, desegregating the musical genres, allowing a whole new era of music to prosper in south Louisiana.
Sadly, Amédé’s career and success stopped short, when a racial attack left him with a brain stem injury, resulting in his death. He is buried in an unmarked grave on the grounds of the Central Louisiana Hospital in Pineville. Moved by his story, the Amédé Ardoin Project Committee formed in 2014 with the mission of symbolically bringing Amédé home. Musicians and donors from across the U.S. funded the committee’s efforts to raise money for a public memorial in his name, a carved steel sculpture of Amédé displayed with his accordion, holding a brass lemon.
The sculpture will be unveiled, March 11, 2018, at a ceremonial event, Bringing Amédé Home. The event will celebrate his symbolic return with a Remembrance Vigil and a Bal du Dimanche après- midi (Sunday afternoon house dance) at the St. Landry Parish Visitor Information Center in Opelousas. The sculpture will be available year-round for viewing at the center, where anyone interested can learn more about Amédé Ardoin and the music of South Louisiana.
Learn more about Bringing Amédé Home at CajunTravel.com.