New Orleans Folk Music

folk music new orleans

Louisiana rural communities have long fostered various forms of traditional country music. Now these traditions are being commercially exploited in various ways.

Zydeco, an innovative folk style unique to Louisiana’s folk music tradition, represents cultural co-optation at work in Louisiana’s music culture. It has its roots in British folk ballads, airs and jigs as well as 19th century cowboy ballads from Britain and America.


Folk music from rural south Louisiana has managed to flourish remarkably despite being relatively isolated from mass culture, far outliving expectations in terms of mass adoption and recording industry production. It has been adopted and appreciated by artists and musicians from different genres of contemporary American music, while it has also had an effect on new genres of music; these new genres draw from traditional roots rather than solely being pop in nature.

Creole fiddle music has served as the source of early inspirations for numerous musicians, drawing influence from African rhythms, French and Spanish baroque music, European folk songs, as well as other sources. Many traditional musical forms have continued to develop over time with modern influences incorporated – from swamp pop to zydeco styles being created today!

Creole music tradition was further altered by the arrival of English-speaking Anglo-Americans into uptown New Orleans, who brought blues, spirituals and other rural dance tunes to the city as well as African drumming and the rhythms of kalenda dance – drawing large audiences and inspiring the creation of jazz as we know it today.

As jazz became increasingly popular, non-reading musicians began playing more improvised music that was better suited to African dances with its fast tempo than earlier more formal forms. Additionally, this style could draw more spectators during street parades; its term “second line” refers to this phenomenon.

Early 19th-century Black Creoles of lower Louisiana began adopting more improvisational musical styles than had been prevalent before, such as La-La:Louisiana Black French Music (Maison de Soul 1004) featuring Goldman Thibodeaux on accordion and Calvin Carriere on fiddle. This recording offers a fine example of these musical traditions.

At a time when segregation was at its height, swamp pop was one of the few genres where white and black artists recorded together. Artists such as Cookie and the Cupcakes, Rod Bernard, and Guitar Gable created many beloved swamp pop hits that remain beloved across America today. Although swamp pop has since been eclipsed by more contemporary forms of music such as Zydeco or even hip-hop, its legacy lives on through history.


Cajun people in southwestern Louisiana and east Texas maintain their distinct culture, language and music even as they integrate themselves into American society. Their French Creole songs and dances date back more than 250 years; today this musical tradition is enjoying a comeback as folk art.

In the 1920s, many musicians began recording traditional music. Accordion, fiddle and guitar remained key instruments of this genre; high-pitched singing styles necessary to break through dance hall noise were also an integral component. Some early recordings are now considered classics of Cajun folk music, such as that made in 1929 by Amede Breaux Falcon on accordion and his sister Cleoma on violin. Lawrence Walker, Aldus Roger and Sady Courville made waves in the recording industry during this era. Iry LeJeune made his mark by recording for Eddie Shuler’s Goldband Records in Lake Charles; with his accordion playing and singing skills he brought back traditional Cajun sounds of older times.

After World War II, accordions returned as the primary instrument in Zydeco music. But bands began moving away from traditional sounds to incorporate modern forms such as rap music into their performances; additionally African Americans added elements of rhythmic percussion techniques and improvisational singing that further defined this genre.

Alan Lomax played an instrumental role in advancing Cajun folk music during its development, traveling to Louisiana in the 1930s to record musicians he met and creating popularization recordings that helped spread its popularity throughout North America and beyond.

Today, accordions remain an integral component of Cajun bands’ sound. Other instruments used are fiddles, acoustic and electric guitars as well as steel guitars – creating a truly distinctive sound which has had an influence over other folk traditions such as country music in America and Celtic music across Europe.


Zydeco music reflects many influences. Some songs feature pure rock and roll, others Cajun second line rhythms, while still others have blues elements. Lyrically it often follows English standards but can include French lyrics. Zydeco began in the 1940s when black Creole musicians began to incorporate older musical traditions with instruments, starting with unaccompanied French shouts called jures as its foundation. Black Creole musician Clifton Chenier often claimed credit for coining this term; some historians hold out hope it stems from West African words meaning “making music.”

Zydeco music centers around the accordion. Two distinct models of accordion are used: chromatic piano-model accordions that utilize half-step “blue note” intervals (flatted third, fifth and seventh notes of the scale) as well as diatonic models with whole note intervals; these chromatic instruments usually consist of one, two or three different keys and can either be single-row models or constructed as double or triple row instruments that play all three keys simultaneously; diatonic accordions typically feature single rows but may also come equipped with double or triple rows that play all three keys simultaneously whereas chromatic piano-model accordions use half step “blue note” intervals to allow half step “blue note” intervals while diatonic accordions utilize whole note intervals instead; they come either from either type.

Zydeco bands typically feature accordions, fiddles and drums – usually acoustic although electric models may occasionally be employed – along with additional instruments like saxophone or guitar for added accompaniment. Some singers such as Geno Delafose and Keith Frank may sing French but most songs performed are performed in English.

In southwest Louisiana during the 1940s and 1950s, Zydeco emerged. Black Creoles combined older musical traditions–such as jures–with instruments such as fiddles and accordions to create this distinct folk music genre that quickly gained regional significance.

Clifton Chenier and Amede Ardoin produced some of the first recordings in Zydeco music history. Through their performances, these artists introduced accordion music to wider audiences – helping fuel its expansion. Both black and white musicians alike performed Zydeco during this era.

In the 1960s, zydeco began to fuse with other musical genres, most notably rhythm and blues (R&B). While it is difficult to accurately assess their influence upon one another, both styles developed out of African American traditions while borrowing heavily from each other; popular R&B songs were even rerecorded by Zydeco musicians with new lyrics in French!


New Orleans was home to African American folk music in the form of work songs, street cries and spirituals influenced by African and European musical influences as well as needs arising from oppressive laws and violent racial unrest in late 1800s New Orleans. These musical traditions were marked by exciting rhythms and public celebration; an expression which supported black culture’s development. These traditions shaped black culture to flourish despite oppressive laws and violent racial unrest during this time.

New Orleans’ relaxed lifestyle, family traditions, and strong community ties helped to ensure the music would thrive. Thus it should come as no surprise that some of the biggest names in jazz, blues, zydeco, second-line parades, and second line came from here; indeed many musicians still perform in New Orleans today and their music forms an integral part of its culture.

Louisiana folk tradition also includes close-harmony singing. This style of vocal-duet singing can be found both old-time country and bluegrass music, and has had an enormous influence on rock and pop. One notable group called The Everly Brothers took this style abroad and made it widely imitated before bringing back its sound back home again.

Shreveport, Alexandria, Monroe and Ferriday all boast vibrant traditional music scenes that include Shreveport’s own traditional music traditions as well as African and English influences in gospel music. Furthermore, these cities also host significant communities for shape-note singing which involves using either the older Sacred Harp system of notation (fa, sol mi re do) to sound out tunes with one or both systems (Sacred Harp or seven note system based on fa, sol, mi, re, do).

Shreveport has long been recognized as a hub for the development of country and rockabilly music, including Leadbelly’s skills as an American blues guitarist. Shreveport also produced country singers like Webb Pierce whose late 1940s honky-tonk style featured emotive lyrics with simple instrumental accompaniment; its influence eventually led to rhythm & blues, rockabilly and other forms.