If this were a documentary on the history of Creole, Cajun and Zydeco music, here is a list of cast members in probable order of appearance who have the surname Ardoin or were prominent in the Ardoin musical careers:
(1898-1942), innovative accordion virtuoso with a high singing voice, and first to record Cajun or Creole music with fiddler Denus McGee in 1929. His great musical legacy is overshadowed by a brutal beating at the hands of two white men while walking home from a dance which ended his musical career and impaired him mentally.
Dennis (Denus) McGee
(1893-1989), Amédé’s musical partner on fiddle, and person most responsible for introducing Amédé to white audiences.
Amédé’s cousin Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin
(1914-2007), played triangle with Amédé Ardoin, and formed the Duralde Ramblers playing accordion with Canray Fontenot for five decades, with whom he performed at 1966 Newport Folk Festival, and recorded with Dewey Balfa and later Balfa Toujours in the 1990s.
Bois Sec’s son Milton Ardoin, who advised his uncle Amédé to stop playing that music that always resulted in a brawl at the dances. Milton played triangle with Bois Sec Ardoin from age 9.
Bois Sec’s son Lawrence "Black" Ardoin
(1946-), leader of the Ardoin Brothers Band when his dad retired, leader of Lawrence “Black” Ardoin and His French Zydeco Band, and manager for his son’s band, Chris Ardoin and Double Clutchin.
Lawrence Ardoin’s older son Sean Ardoin (1970-), leader of the band Sean Ardoin & Zydekool.
Lawrence Ardoin’s son: Chris Ardoin
(1981-), leader of the band Chris Ardoin and NuStep Zydeko
Bois Sec’s son Morris Ardoin, owner of the Cowboy Club in Duralde, and founder of the Ardoin Family Band with brothers Lawrence and Russell with Canray Fontenot on fiddle.
Morris Ardoin’s son Dexter Ardoin, leader of the band Dexter Ardoin & The Creole Ramblers
Denus McGee’s son
Gerry McGee, innovative guitar player with The Ventures; George Harrison and Eric Clapton were influenced by Gerry McGee’s guitar work; Gerry McGee is producing a film to be titled Amede and Denus. A documentary on Gerry McGee’s career was released this year titled Sushi & Sauce Piquante. Trailers on these projects can be found on the internet and have been posted to the Florida Cajun Zydeco Facebook page.
and Denus McGee
Gerry McGee has posted several trailers to the internet for a movie that have been in production for several years to be titled Amédé and Denus. (These trailers have been posted to the Florida Cajun Zydeco Facebook page.) Amédé and Denus
is a story of music pioneers Amédé Ardoin and his music partner, Denus McGee (Gerry’s dad), their extraordinary musicianship and music writing talents, Amédé’s dare to cross the racial divide in a society of bigotry and hatred, and the violent end of Amédé’s musical life.
As Michael Tisserand, author of
The Kingdom of Zydeco, surmises, "There seems to be a decree in traditional American music that pioneers be touched by genius and then face a brutal end. So it was for Robert Johnson with the blues and Buddy Bolden with jazz, and so it is with Amede Ardoin, the first and perhaps the finest Creole accordionist to make a record."
In the early 1930s, Creole accordionist Amédé Ardoin
made some of the first and most important recordings by a French-speaking musician from South Louisiana. In an era of strict segregation, many of these selections found him accompanied by Cajun fiddler Denus McGee. This soulful and passionate body of work, including "The Midland Two-Step" and "Les Blues de la Prison" influenced the course of Cajun music and zydeco for decades to come.
Amédé knew the risks to taking a job playing music in mixed race situations, and he was used to taking his life in his hands every time he played a party. He usually played accordion with a white man, Denus McGee, on fiddle, and he was accompanied on his journey home or given a ride when his gig was over late at night in rural Eunice, Louisiana. People
speculate that his sin that evening was to accept a white woman’s handkerchief to wipe his brow while playing. Some say it was jealousy because when he played the accordion he could make the women cry. Others have speculated that he had offended a white man by flirting with his daughters, or offended a black fiddle player by telling him that two black men couldn’t play together without risking their lives in a white-dominated society. Or that some people were resentful that a black man could make a living without working in the fields. But according to Joel Savoy, “There wasn’t anyone in this area who would have thought twice about Amédé using a white woman’s handkerchief. Everyone knew and like him.”
voiced another opinion. “The story that we had down here is that he had a secret affair with a white woman, they found out about it, and they beat him ’til he lost his mind.”
Whatever the cause or reason, the brutal beating of Amédé Ardoin not only ended his musical career but overshadowed his brilliant contributions to Cajun and Creole music. With Denus McGee, Amede Ardoin recorded 34 songs, the first recordings of Cajun or Creole music ever, many of which have become standards for other artists not always attributed to Amédé. When Iry Lejeune reintroduced the accordion into Cajun music in the 1950s, he was inspired by Amédé recordings 20 years prior. According to Boozoo Chavis, “My uncle had that record, the
‘Eunice Two-Step’. Everyone had Amédé’s record. Boy, that man had a fine voice. That’s pure Frenchman from the heart.”
Tisserand adds, “Arhoolie has reissued most of Ardoin’s recordings, and Columbia has reissued most of the others; his tunes frequently surface during zydeco nights, and usually with new titles and no mention of Ardoin.”
Amédé’s partner, Denus McGee, continued to perform after Amédés death in 1941 with accordionist Angelas LeJeune, and with fiddlers Sady Courville and Ernest Frugé. The recordings with Courville and Frugé are among the
few surviving examples of Cajun music as it existed before the influence of the accordion became prominent. McGee's repertoire included not only the waltz and the two-step common to Cajun music but also such dances as the one-step, polka, mazurka, reel, cotillion, the varsovienne, and others. McGee’s legacy includes his knowledge of playing older styles of Cajun music before the 1900s, when the accordion was introduced. So closes the chapter of one Ardoin.
"Bois Sec" Ardoin
Alphonse ‘Bois Sec’ Ardoin, 1916-2007, played triangle with Amede Ardoin, and formed the Duralde Ramblers playing accordion with fiddler Canray Fontenot for five decades. Born in Duralde in Evangeline Parish, Louisiana, he earned his nickname "dry wood" because he would always be the first to run in from the fields during a rainstorm. After starting on the triangle with his cousin Amédé Ardoin and fiddler Dennis McGee, he learned traditional accordion at age 12, playing the style of Louisiana music that was a precursor to zydeco.
His longtime musical partner was Canray Fontenot. Canary was part of the Ardoin family by marriage; Canray Fontenot’s uncle was Bois Sec’s
father-in-law. By 1948, they were playing together in the Duralde Ramblers, and performed on local radio stations and in clubs. In 1966, they were invited to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival, where they received an enthusiastic reception. In the same year, they recorded their first album, Les Blues Du Bayou, on the Melodeon label.
In the early 1970s, Ardoin formed the Ardoin Family Orchestra with three of his sons, together with Canray Fontenot. They made a number of recordings, and appeared in two films, Dry Wood (1973) and
J'ai Été Au Bal
(1989). He retired from the music business after the death of one of his sons, Gustave, in 1974, but returned a few years later. After Fontenot's death in 1995, Ardoin performed with the band Balfa Toujours, and recorded an album, Allons Danser, with them in 1998.
In 1986, Ardoin and Fontenot were awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts.
While Ardoin and Fontenot determined early on that their Creole repertoire should not be zydeco, their music was picked up and retooled by bands playing zydeco, such as John Delafose who fashioned his own version of their “Joe Pitre”. Their music was
picked up by Beau Jacque, Steve Riley and BeauSoleil as well. Their “Les Haricots” was adapted by Beausoleil as “Zydeco Gris-Gris” and “Tit Monde” ("Little World”) was retooled into the zydeco hit “Why Do You Want to Make Me Cry?”
According to Tisserand, “Following their appearance at Newport in 1966, Fontenot and Ardoin kept playing for festivals both around the world and in Louisiana, becoming the only Creoles to regularly play the old style long after it went out of fashion at the prairie dances. They tenaciously hung together through a series of health problems, and to the end they shared the kind of alliance in which information can be exchanged in a glance, and on a dime a waltz can turn to the
blues. There would come a point in their songs when they would shoot each other glances, give each other slight smiles, and bear down on their instruments, tapping their feet harder, going to work, driving a deeper groove down the median of the tune. For their audiences around the world, their relationship defined Creole music.”
“We can read each other’s mind,” Bois Sec Ardoin would explain. “It’s not like that with anyone else.”
The son of Creole accordion legend Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin, Lawrence "Black" Ardoin
not only carried on the family's musical traditions, but he later passed on the torch to his own sons Sean and Chris.
Born in Duralde, Louisiana in 1946, Ardoin was the second of Bois Sec's sons (following 8 sisters), joining his father and siblings Morris and Gustave in the Ardoin Brothers Band. Originally a drummer, he took over accordion duties when Gustave was killed in a 1974 auto accident, and upon his father's mid-1970s retirement assumed full leadership of the group. However, over time the confines of traditional Creole music stifled Lawrence, and in the early 1980s he formed a new combo, the French Zydeco Band, which also allowed him to pursue his interests in Cajun and swamp-pop sounds.
In 1984, the group debuted with the LP Lawrence "Black" Ardoin and His French Zydeco Band; a long recording hiatus preceded the release of 1992's follow-up, Hot and Spicy Zydeco.
Following its release, Lawrence formed a new group, Lagniappe, which included his son Chris on accordion; as the youngster continued his creative evolution, he began leading his own band, Double Clutchin', which Lawrence also managed and Sean played drums.
The boys Sean and Chris each began playing in their father’s band at 4 years of age. Sean (born in 1970) was playing drums at age four in the Ardoin Brother Band, and Chris first picked up the accordion in public to play “My Toot-Toot” at a gumbo cook in Texas before 3,000 people. “His little stomach was in a knot — hard, hard, hard,” recalls Lawrence.
1990 Chris and Sean performed in Carnegie Hall with their father, grandfather and uncles. The same year Chris joined his father’s band on accordion, but Lawrence soon realized his son was changing his sound. “I tried to get Chris to go with the music we were doing, but he wasn’t interested in doing that…. My daughter, Erica, and my son Sean, they would play everything just like I played it. I’d get off the stage and one of them could come on, and you couldn’t tell I’d left. But Chris was different. So one day I said, ’Well, this here is not working anymore.’”
A new band was formed around Chris’ new style of playing accordion: Double Clutchin.
Lawrence’s oldest son, Sean Ardoin (born in 1970), says he’s always been out on the edge doing something different with his music. When he left Double Clutchin, he formed Zydekool so he could experiment with integrating R&B, rock, reggae into zydeco. He released Pullin’ and Home Brew
as Sean Ardoin & Zydekool.
Then he left music for eight years to seeking a spiritual renewal with his Christian faith. He returned in 2009 and released How Great is Your Love
which became the first notable zydeco Christian Gospel album. “I stopped playing music for about eight years. I was basically getting stronger in my faith and getting to the point where I could be a light out in the world, and realizing you can be a Christian and play music. Some people don’t understand that. It’s my job. It’s who I am. I give all the glory to God when I do it. It makes people feel good. It makes their lives better.”
Then Sean was inspired to put a zydeco spin on “Happy”, the Pharrell Williams hit a year ago. Radio stations that usually shy away were putting zydeco “Happy” in the rotation. Lake Charles, Sean’s southwest Louisiana hometown of 73,000, adopted the tune for a promotional
“When I did ‘Happy,’ I was already out on the edge. I don’t have a problem being out in the deep water. The people who are really successful in life, they all say the same thing. Keep doing what you do and being the best person you can be. If it’s good, everybody will catch up to you."
Sean’s latest brainchild, Creole United, is a gathering that includes his father Lawrence, Jeffery Broussard, Andre Thierry, Dexter Ardoin and other zydeco veterans and newcomers performing fresh tunes in French and English, in a Creole genre often stuck on nostalgia. “I’m back with a determination to
preserve the culture, while at the same time pushing it forward. With the Creole United project, it caused me to really assess about how I feel about my roots. My passion for the music has been revived. I have a really strong desire to see that the music stays active, relevant and we also preserve the culture at the same time. I really think we can do that. We have some very talented individuals.”
After putting together an impromptu group of veteran musicians for an event in Portland, Oregon a couple of years ago which included Dexter Ardoin, Sean Ardoin, Jeffery Broussard and Andre Thierry, the thought of recording such a jam with all of these different artists occurred to them. According to Sean, “We, as Creoles, have never gotten together to work
together. We need to do that. The Cajun artists are doing it and we need to do it too. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to do it. We’ll do the Creole standards and create some new Creole standards. Pay homage to the old school and at the same time, give it a new flavor. Not just repeating and recycling Amédé’s songs.” Their debut CD, Non Jamais Fait,
Creole for “never been done,” features 11 original songs done in French and English. Missing is the R&B and rap that fills much of contemporary zydeco. Yet the songs have harmonies, kick-drum beats and other modern stylings that ears of all ages can appreciate. “When we finished this project, it gave me a healthy, renewed affection for the Creole music,” said Sean.
According to Sean, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I’ve never wanted to do what’s already been done. I’ve always been the guy doing R&B, rock, reggae and mixing it to zydeco. They thought I was out there but, today, that’s what everybody is doing. So, it’s a perfect time for me to come back. Timing is everything. I’m
excited for the future of zydeco and Creole music.”
Lawrence’s younger son Chris Ardoin
(born April 7, 1981) has helped form the nouveau zydeco, a new style of music that fused traditional zydeco with various styles including hip-hop, reggae and R&B.
He was a child prodigy belonging to a musical dynasty. He started with the accordion at the age of two and grew up listening to zydeco only until he was in his teens. When he was just ten, with a help from his father Lawrence, he formed the Double Clutchin' zydeco band with his elder brother Sean Ardoin on drums.
In 1994, the band released their debut album That's Da Lick
from Maison de Soul label. Chris came more into the center of the spotlight in the follow-up effort Lick It Up! released a year later, sharing vocals and songwriting duties with Sean. Sean left the band after releasing the album Turn the Page in 1997 to concentrate in his solo career.
In 2005, Chris changed the band name from Double Clutchin' to NuStep, and released Sweat, the first album under the new name. M.V.P. followed in 2006, V.I.P. in 2008, Alter Ego in 2009, Headliner in 2010, Unleashed in 2012, and Back Home
“Chris is shy, like me,” Geno Delafose told Rick Koster, author of
Louisiana Music. “Part of the early credit for Double Clutchin goes to Sean because he’s a people person and he flat-out entertains people. But Chris has stepped up. He’s a great accordion player and, though he grew up in the old school, he’s pushing it in new directions.”
At just 34 years of age, Chris Ardoin has over two decades of accomplishments as a music composer and band leader and 14 albums starting in 1994 with he and his brother's band Double Clutchin. With each album Chris has explored new musical terrain. As one of our local dancers answered when asked if Chris Ardoin is his favorite zydeco artist, "That depends on which Chris
you're asking about." Through all of the changes in musical style, Chris Ardoin's songs are among the most requested at my zydeco dances.
Morris Ardoin and
From the liner notes of the Creole Ramblers' first CD: "The skies opened up at noon with a heavy downpour just as Morris Ardoin and his son, Dexter, were about to perform outside during the annual Church of Annuncation Bazaar in rural Duralde Sunday, Sept. 10, 2000.
"The rain was welcome coming in the middle of a long drought, but the Ardoins had to wait until 2 p.m. before the skies cleared and they could climb up onto the trailer that served as a stage. While waiting, they chatted with friends during the auction held inside the church hall. When the sun came out once more, the Ardoins began their performance.
Earlier in the summer, they had toured France. Now they were bringing the same old-time Creole music to a stage near their home in Duralde."
The oldest son of Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin, Morris Ardoin began playing triangle at age 9 when his father would play house dances or perform at Freeman Fontenot's Club. As they matured, Ardoin and the other members of his family continued their interest in music while they got on with the business of making a living.
Michael Tisserand's book The Kingdom of Zydeco
includes details about Morris Ardoin's decision to get together with his brothers to form the Ardoin Family Band, with Morris on guitar, Lawrence on drums, Russell on bass, Gustav "Bud" on accordion, and Bois Sec's close friend Canray Fontenot on fiddle. In addition to performing at Morris Ardoin's own Cowboy Club near his home in Duralde and other area clubs, the band played at festivals in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., made several recordings, and even appeared three times at Carnegie Hall. The death of Gustav Ardoin in a car accident in 1974 and changes in musical tastes in Southwest Louisiana eventually brought the era of the Ardoin Family Band to an end.
However, today the old Creole style of playing lives on through the collaboration of Morris
Ardoin on fiddle and his son Dexter on accordion. Dexter Ardoin also plays drums in zydeco bands like the Zydecool Band lead by his cousin Sean Ardoin.
These notes have only hinted at the historical significance of the Ardoin family to Creole music. The story goes on, and new family members will undoubtedly be added. Learning more about these individual artists in the compilation of this article as given me a new appreciation for the music we love to dance to. Until the next chapter is written, be well and enjoy.
Parts of this article are indebted to Michael Tisserand, author of The Kingdom of Zydeco, Rick Koster, author of
Louisiana Music, and David Simpson, photographer in Lafayette, Louisiana who has documented with his camera hundreds of Cajun and zydeco bands, and graciously given me permission to use some of them.