Cajun/Zydeco

Historic Timelines

Cajun/Zydeco

1636

The French establish a colony, Acadia, in what is now eastern Canada. The 1670 census shows 300 settlers.

1713

Acadia ceded to the British. It is renamed Nova Scotia.

1754

The British government demands an oath of allegiance to the crown. Most Acadians refuse because they are Catholics and King George II heads the Protestant Church of England.

1755

The lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia orders the mass deportation of Acadians. Between 1755 and 1763, around 10,000 Acadians are expelled. Some are deported to France and some to the American colonies and England.

1763-1765

Acadians are permitted to return to Nova Scotia. Some do so, but, starting in 1765, many take up a Spanish offer to settle in Louisiana. The Spanish had taken over most of Louisiana after the Seven Years War, and offer land in southwest Louisiana because they want anti-British, Catholic immigrants. Joseph Broussard lands the first two hundred Acadians in Louisiana in February 1765. Acadians bring their traditional ballads and dance music, accompanying themselves on fiddle and triangle.

1783

After the American Revolutionary War, 1500 more Acadians are granted permission to emigrate from France to Louisiana. Many families are reunited. The Spanish government pays to bring them to Louisiana.

Late 1700s

Creoles in Louisiana. Many non-enslaved, light-complexioned Creoles form an aristocratic society in New Orleans. More isolated Creoles live in the rural prairies of southwest Louisiana and later mix Acadian music with Blues to create Zydeco.

1803

Louisiana Purchase. The Louisiana territory is transferred from Spanish to French to American control. The 1879 and 1898 state constitutions provide that “the French language may be taught in those parishes or localities where the French language predominates, if no additional expense is incurred thereby.”

1829

Accordion invented. Basing his design on earlier Chinese instruments, Viennese instrument maker Cyrillus Damian patents the diatonic accordion. In an era of unamplified music, it is loud enough for solo accompaniment at dances.

1847

Evangeline. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s narrative poem set during the 1855 expulsion relates the story of an Acadian girl, Evangeline, and the search for her lover, Gabriel. Longfellow never visits Nova Scotia or Louisiana. Robbie Robertson of The Band later bases his song “Evangeline” on the poem. Other songs and movies are based upon it.

1890s

The accordion comes to Louisiana. Affordable diatonic models in the keys of C and D are imported from Germany and Austria, and the accordion begins to reach Acadians and Creoles in southwest Louisiana.

1893

“Cajun” in print as a pejorative term. Harper’s magazine in November 1893 writes of the Acadians, “We must not call them ‘Cajuns’ to their faces lest they be offended, that the term is taken as one of reproach.”

1901

Oil discovered in Jennings, Louisiana. There is an influx of outsiders into more secluded Acadian parishes. Some Acadians leave their home towns to work in oil fields in Louisiana and east Texas.

1921

Attempts to suppress Acadian culture. The Louisiana constitution is amended to state that all education must be conducted in English.

1929

Jole Blon. The first recording of most well-known Cajun song is made as “Ma Blonde Est Partie” by Amedee Breaux.

1929

Amédé Ardoin records. A Creole musician, Ardoin makes thirty-four recordings in a Cajun style, setting the stage for Zydeco music.

1930s

Cajun music on radio in Louisiana and east Texas. Often, musicians incorporate Country or Western Swing.

1933

Hackberry Ramblers. Founders Luderin Darbonne and Edwin Duhon lead the band until Duhon’s death in 2006, but the band continues to this day, playing Cajun, Country, and Western Swing. They record “Jole Blon” in 1936—the first to use the now commonly accepted title.

1930s/1940s

Birth of Zydeco. A synthesis of traditional Creole music, Cajun, and Blues. At first, it’s known locally as French music, le musique Creole, or “la-la.” The first Creole musician to record in the Cajun style, Amédé Ardoin, records between 1929 and 1934. Reportedly beaten after a white woman gives him a kerchief to wipe his brow during a dance in Eunice, Louisiana, he is unable to perform after the beating. The place and date of his death have never been ascertained. Fiddle player Canray Fontenot, the son of one of Ardoin’s side-men, later forms a duo with Ardoin’s cousin, Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin. They play pre-Zydeco Creole music. Fontenot writes several standards, including “Joe Pitre a Deux Femmes,” “Les Barres de la Prison” and “Bonsoir Moreau,” but never turns professional.

1940s

Dance Halls. During World War II, Cajun music becomes popular in dance halls throughout southwest Louisiana. Although the recording of Cajun music ceases during the war, the music thrives in dance halls.

1945

Goldband Records. Eddie Shuler, who’d moved from Texas to Lake Charles, Louisiana, starts Goldband, initially for his own Country band. Later, he records Cajun and Zydeco music, as well as Phil Phillips’ original “Sea of Love” and Dolly Parton’s first records.

1946

Jole Blon. Western Swing fiddler Harry Choates, who speaks little or no French, records the hit version of “Jole Blonde.” Because it’s not a copyrighted song, many other artists rush out versions. Choates dies in jail in 1951.

Late 1940s

Cajun recording boom. “Jole Blon” spurs many new Cajun recordings—the first for many years. In Crowley, Louisiana, Jay Miller gathers some Cajun artists and takes them to New Orleans. One of the songs recorded, Happy Fats’ “Colinda,” becomes a Cajun standard. Fats says later that he adapted it from the Calinda Coo-Doo dance brought by slaves from the West Indies. Soon after, Miller starts his own studio in Crowley to record Cajun, Country, and Blues.

1948

“Gran Texas.” Several Cajun artists follow Chuck Guillory in recording “Gran Texas.” Hank Williams adapts the melody into one of the all-time best-known Cajun songs, “Jambalaya.”

1949

“Bon Ton Roula.” Creole musician Clarence Garlow records a proto-Zydeco record, “Bon Ton Roula,” for Macys Records in Houston. It becomes a big hit in Louisiana and Texas.

1949

Nathan Abshire and Iry LeJeune begin recording. After learning from Amédé Ardoin and others, Abshire becomes one of the most accomplished accordionists in Cajun music history. His best-known record, “Pine Grove Blues,” becomes a Cajun standard. Accordionist Iry LeJeune records his classic, “Evangeline Special.”

1952

“Jambalaya” becomes a hit for Hank Williams and pop singer Jo Stafford. Record companies go in search of Cajun or Cajun-influenced songs. Link Davis, a Texas-born saxophonist and fiddle player who is married to a Cajun woman, re-records Leo Soileau’s 1935 song “Le Gran Mamou” as “Big Mamou.” Davis makes the song into a local hit, singing in French and English.

1952

Eddie Shuler starts the Goldband studio. It operates alongside his radio repair shop in Lake Charles.

1954

Zydeco recorded. Boozoo Chavis makes what is generally reckoned to be the first Zydeco record, “Paper in My Shoe,” for Goldband Records. Shuler leases it for national distribution to Imperial Records in Los Angeles. That same year, Clifton Chenier begins recording, but his first singles are without a rub-board—one of the instruments that typify Zydeco. In 1955, he records “Zodico Stomp.” Chenier claims that he invented or coined the word “Zydeco.” In some accounts, it’s contracted from a French phrase, “Les haricots ne sont pas salé” (“the beans aren’t salty” or, colloquially, “I have no spicy gossip.”)

1957

Swallow-Jin Records. Floyd Soileau starts Swallow Records for Cajun music and then Jin Records for Swamp-Pop, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Cajun-fusion. Soileau helps to preserve Cajun music and keep it popular in south Louisiana.

1958

Swamp Pop. Cookie & the Cupcakes’ hit “Mathilda” announces the birth of Swamp-Pop music, fusing Cajun, Zydeco, R&B, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. The following year, Phil Phillips’ “Sea of Love,” Rod Bernard’s “This Should Go on Forever,” and Joe Barry’s “I’m a Fool to Care” all become hits. The artists are Cajuns or Creoles who bring Cajun or Zydeco influences to Rock ‘n’ Roll.

1958

La Louisianne Records begins. Record store owner Carol Rachou begins a label and recording studio in Lafayette, and it still remains in business.

1960

Zydeco defined. Researcher Mack McCormick issues an LP, A Treasury of Field Recordings. It appears first in England with a 42-page book using the now-accepted spelling “Zydeco.”

1960

“Louisiana Man.” Doug Kershaw, a Cajun from Cameron Parish, Louisiana, who’d grown up speaking French, writes and records one of the classic Cajun songs. It reaches No. 10 on the Country charts in 1961. Kershaw follows it with another Cajun classic, “Diggy Liggy Lo.” In 1969, Kershaw performs both songs on ABC-TV’s The Johnny Cash Show.

1960

“Sugar Bee.” The first Cajun record to dent the Billboard Hot 100, Cleveland Crochet’s “Sugar Bee,” reaches No. 80.

1960

Savoy Music Center opens in Eunice, Louisiana. The Savoys are accordion builders and their store becomes a gathering place for musicians. Their Saturday morning jam sessions have become legendary gatherings.

1960s

Cajun cultural renaissance. Jukeboxes throughout south Louisiana and east Texas popularize Cajun singles on Swallow, Jin, Jag, Goldband, Excello, Maison de Soul and other regional record labels.

1964

Cajun music at the Newport Folk Festival. Dewey Balfa, Gladius Thibodeaux and Vinus LeJeune perform at the Newport Folk Festival on the same bill as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Balfa is inspired to campaign for the preservation and promotion of Cajun music, and starts a band with his brothers.

1966

Clifton Chenier appears at the Berkeley Blues Festival. Journalist Ralph J. Gleason lauds his set, and some of Chenier’s recordings for the specialist Arhoolie label are leased to Blue Thumb Records for national distribution.

1966

Canray Fontenot performs at the Newport Folk Festival. Still working with Bois Sec Ardoin, they are one of the last links to the Creole music that predates Zydeco. They resume playing shows in Louisiana and begin playing at festivals throughout the world.

1968

CODOFIL. Council for the Development of French in Louisiana founded as a state agency.

1970

First New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The line-up includes Duke Ellington, Mahalia Jackson, Fats Domino, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Meters, and Clifton Chenier.

1972

CODOFIL establishes the Festival Acadiens et Creoles in Lafayette, Louisiana. The goal is to promote, preserve and celebrate the music, food and crafts of South Louisiana. It is held every September.

1974

Jimmy C. Newman’s recording of “Lache Pas La Patate” becomes a hit in Quebec. Newman’s recording, made for La Louisianne Records in Ville Platte becomes a gold record in Canada. Although his recording career started recording in Louisiana, Newman was based in Nashville from 1956.

1976

Clifton Chenier appears on “Austin City Limits” and Queen Ida appears at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Chenier is part of Austin City Limits’ initial season, and brings his music to a national audience. He is also the subject of a Les Blank movie, Hot Pepper.

1977

Cajun revival band Beausoleil releases first LP. The band’s name is a tribute to Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil, who led the first Acadian settlers to Louisiana. More artists follow Beausoleil’s lead in blending Cajun music with Zydeco, Jazz, and Rock. These include Zachary Richard and Wayne Toups. Other newer bands, including one led by Iry LeJeune’s son, Eddie, keep traditional Cajun music alive.

1982

Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival. The first festival is held in a farmer’s field in Plaisance with four hundred local attendees. It becomes an annual event.

1982

Queen Ida becomes first Cajun-Zydeco performer to win a Grammy.

1984

Count Sidney scores the only Zydeco hit, “My Toot Toot.” It is certified Platinum and wins a Grammy award. Sidney brings national and international attention to Zydeco music. Clifton Chenier and Queen Ida get more bookings, and Rockin’ Dopsie records with Paul Simon. Younger Zydeco musicians, such as C.J. Chenier, Chubby Carrier, and Geno Delafose, gain a following.

1990s

Beau Jocque. Adding new beats and bass lines as well as elements of funk, hip-hop and rap, Beau Jocque (Andrus Espre) takes Zydeco in new directions before his death in 1999.

1997

BeauSoleil’s “L’Amour Ou La Folie” wins a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album.

1999

Dewey Balfa Cajun and Creole Week is established. Balfa Camp (a cultural immersion camp) is opened by his daughter, Christine, in association with Louisiana Folk Roots.

2007-11

New Grammy category: Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album. The category is discontinued in 2011, but Cajun and Zydeco recordings later dominate the new Best Regional Roots Music Grammy award.

 

2013

The State of Louisiana designates 2013 the “Year of Music.” Jazz, Cajun, and Zydeco are celebrated.

2014

Jimmy C. Newman dies. The first Cajun singer to join the Opry, Newman began recording in French in 1946 before signing with Dot Records in Nashville in 1953, scoring a hit with “Cry, Cry Darling.” He and the Kershaws pioneer a Cajun-country blend that becomes popular with both audiences.

2014

Festivals Acadiens and Creoles celebrates its fortieth anniversary. Rockin’ Dopsie Jr, Beausoleil, Roddie Romero, and Warren Storm are among the performers.

2015

250th Anniversary of the Acadiens Landing in Louisiana. A statewide event is planned with Festivals Acadiens and Creoles playing a key role.

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