Zydeco is an original musical genre born out of southwest Louisiana that blends traditional Creole music with Cajun and African American elements.
Zydeco music is known for its signature instrument: the rubboard. Constructed of corrugated metal, this instrument is worn over one’s shoulder like a breastplate and played with spoons or old-style bottle openers.
Clifton Chenier is widely considered one of the greatest musicians in popular zydeco music. As an innovator of this genre, he has earned numerous awards for his work. Additionally, he played an influential role in bringing zydeco into popular culture.
Zydeco music combines R&B, blues and traditional Cajun instruments for a danceable and hard-driving genre that’s sung in both English and French.
On June 25, 1925 in Opelousas, Louisiana, Chenier was heavily influenced by accordion players such as Amede Ardoin. He began with a single-row push-button diatonic accordion but eventually learned how to play an elaborate piano-key chromatic model.
He began recording in Lake Charles, Louisiana for a small, black-owned label in 1954. Soon after, he signed with major Los Angeles record company Specialty and rose to national fame as an accomplished rhythm and blues artist.
At this stage, his sound evolved into an urban style and he added instruments like trumpets and saxophones to his ensemble. The result was highly danceable and hard-driving music suitable for larger dance halls.
Later in life, Chenier experienced health issues which necessitated him to take time off from performing. Additionally, his left foot had been partially amputated and he underwent frequent kidney dialysis treatments for kidney stones.
In 1983, his album I’m Here! earned him a Grammy and earned him both a National Heritage Fellowship as well as performing at the White House for President Reagan.
He is fondly remembered by many as “King of Zydeco.” His songs emphasize dance and hard-driving rhythms, while his instrumentation incorporates various modern styles into his soundscape. Clifton Chenier’s zydeco music still sets a standard for other bands playing this genre today; festivals featuring it continue to showcase it and a new generation of Creole artists strives to push its boundaries while honoring its legacy.
Boozoo Chavis is a legendary Louisiana zydeco musician renowned for his energetic performances and raw style of music. Born in 1930, his name can be seen proudly displayed on caps and T-shirts that read: “Boozoo!”
He is widely considered one of the pioneers of zydeco music, having learned it from his mother. In the early 1950s he was discovered by Lake Charles producer Eddie Shuler of Goldband Records and recorded his first hit single “Paper in My Shoe,” which became a classic staple within zydeco music with its driving dance beat characteristic to Chavis’ work.
His diatonic button accordion played the rhythms he composed, with lyrics reflecting on poverty and lack of resources. His powerful voice and heavy accordion riffs kept dance floors packed.
Clifton Chenier may not have achieved the fame of Chavis, but his music remains an integral part of zydeco culture. Unlike Chenier who grew up in Houston and adopted an urban sound with his music, Chavis remained in his native region and developed his own distinct zydeco sound.
The New York Times wrote that his zydeco music “sounded like a bullet of man running around onstage, shouting and yelling.” His raucous performances and irreverent songs remain popular today. In addition to performing at numerous local clubs, he has performed internationally and earned widespread acclaim.
After a lengthy absence, Chavis returned to his career in the 1980s with his captivating performances and hit singles reinvigorating zydeco music’s popularity. In his final decade, he faced numerous challenges in battles of the bands; these competitions were seen as rites of passage by young zydeco musicians, ultimately leading him to victory every round.
Queen Ida Guillory
Queen Ida Guillory, born January 15, 1929 in Lake Charles, Louisiana is an acclaimed zydeco musician renowned for her fiery accordion and energetic vocals that get people up and dancing. Additionally, she plays the button accordion which is considered more versatile than other types of zydeco instruments.
She was born into a musical family and learned how to play the accordion from her mother Elvina Lewis. As a teenager, she started playing professionally and moved to California when she was an adult. Together with her husband Ray they had three children who all pursue music professionally.
In 1976, she signed with GNP Records and began producing albums. Additionally, she began touring Europe and Japan, as well as appearing on television shows like Saturday Night Live and Austin City Limits.
Her fourth album for GNP, recorded in Europe, earned her a Grammy Award. Additionally, she was invited to perform in Francis Ford Coppola’s film Rumble Fish.
Queen Ida remains the undisputed queen of zydeco music, being the first woman to lead such a band and having an inclusive approach that allows both men and women to take part equally in her performances. Although other zydeco bands have since emerged on the scene, she remains its undisputed king.
Zydeco is a Louisiana music genre that blends cajun, jazz and creole folk styles with the accordion as its lead instrument. Its rhythms are heavily influenced by African-Caribbean and French influences, while the distinctive sound of the accordion serves to define it for many listeners.
Recently, zydeco has grown in popularity beyond Louisiana borders and attracted some of music’s biggest stars: Buckwheat Zydeco, Terrance Simien and the Mallet Playboys, and Good Rockin’ Sidney. These groups have become so successful that some have been credited with revitalizing traditional zydeco.
Alton “Rockin’ Dopsie” Rubin
The accordion is an integral element in zydeco music, and Alton “Rockin’ Dopsie” Rubin was a pioneering practitioner. He released several albums and toured throughout North America and Europe for decades.
Rockin’ Dopsie was born in Carencro, Louisiana and began performing zydeco music at local clubs during the 1950s. Later he relocated to Lafayette and established himself as a popular performer at various local establishments.
He recorded with Bob Dylan and Cyndi Lauper, as well as appearing in films like Delta Heat. Additionally, he has endorsed products from Burger King hamburgers to Close Up Toothpaste.
Dopsie’s band has long been regarded as one of the finest in its genre, featuring two sons on drums and washboard. They are joined by blind saxophonist John Hart who previously performed with Clifton Chenier.
In the 1970s, Rubin joined Swedish label Sonet and released several albums. These recordings gained him a new audience as well as European tours with his Twisters band members.
Rubin’s success in Europe eventually translated to his success as a performer in America; his album Saturday Night Zydeco was nominated for a Grammy in 1989.
Zydeco music, like many Cajun and Acadian genres, has its roots in Louisiana’s bayous. This bubbling, melodic gumbo blends elements of Cajun folk with Afro-Caribbean rhythms.
Many musicians in zydeco are members of the Cajun Music Association, which promotes traditional zydeco music and its history. Additionally, this organization holds an annual national conference to showcase new work.
Recently, The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame inducted four brothers from two bands. Alton “Tiger” Dopsie and David Rubin (aka Rockin’ Dopsie Jr.) were inducted alongside Dwayne Dopsie of Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers who is gearing up to release his 11th album Set Me Free.
Zydeco music has become a staple in Louisiana, and you can hear it at numerous events around the state. This upbeat genre of music is perfect for tailgates, festivals, and parades alike – enjoy!
Blues-Cajun-French Creole music is a fusion of blues, Cajun and French Creole elements. It’s an energetic, sultry and soulful style played by numerous artists around the world; making it popular with people of all ages and backgrounds.
One of the most renowned zydeco musicians is Sidney Simien. His hit single “Toot” achieved huge success in the 80s and became a million seller.
He also has many other hits, such as “Grandma’s House.” This song is a beloved classic among Louisiana zydeco enthusiasts and has become one of the state’s most beloved melodies.
This popular song has been covered by many artists, such as John Fogerty and Fats Domino. It continues to be played frequently on radio stations across the country.
Clifton Chenier is another well-known zydeco musician. He’s widely considered the father of zydeco and coined the term “zydeco.”
His music has a funky edge and is popular across the US. It combines soul, funk and reggae influences in many of his songs.
As a zydeco musician, Simien draws from an array of influences to create his music – using these various styles to create something truly original and captivating.
He is an accomplished musician and has achieved international success as a zydeco artist. Additionally, his work with children and schools, through Creole for Kidz program, has been highly praised by student audiences around the globe.