“If there was one musician today you could say poured the foundation for what we know today as Cajun music and zydeco, it would be Amédé Ardoin.”
-Herman Fuselier, executive director, St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission
ST. LANDRY PARISH, La. (KLFY)- You may not have heard of Amédé Ardoin before, but more than likely you’ve heard something inspired by his music.
His statue was erected in Opelousas a couple of years ago, but his effect on the mind of musicians has been felt for generations.
Ardoin was born on March 11, 1898, between Eunice and Basile. He left a tradition of family farming to become one of the first in Acadiana to perform and record what would become known and French Cajun or Creole music.
When Amédé would play in the dance halls, the women would break down and the men would stop fighting. His music was just that powerful,” St. Landry Parish Tourism Commission Executive Director Herman Fuselier said.
Much of Amédé’s early life is surrounded in mystery. Despite having no access to formal training, he picked up an accordion and began traveling across Acadiana. Many of his songs are named after venues like Eunice, Opelousas, Crowley and more.
It wasn’t long before he and a Cajun fiddler named Dennis McGee became partners in a time of strict racial segregation in Jim Crow Louisiana.
“This black accordion player and this white fiddler. They were in high demand, and they would do black and white audiences, too,” Fuselier said. “They might play a white dance and after that go to a black dance and get down with the blues.”
Amédé recorded 34 records in New Orleans, San Antonio, and New York City, but his home was always St. Landry Parish, and it was there where he had his last performance.
Local retellings of the story surmise a white woman offered Amédé her handkerchief to wipe his face, but in an act of racial hate, a couple of white men followed Amédé home and beat him so severely that he didn’t die, but he never was the same. Some even say the assailants drove over Amédé’s head and spine, which broke his mind.
“To lose his voice because of an assault because of the color of his skin makes him a heroic figure in my mind,” said Dr. Darrell Bourque, a former Louisiana Poet Laureate, who was instrumental in a project “Bringing Amédé Home”.
Borque said knowing Amédé lost his name with his sanity and became a number at the Pineville mental hospital, and after six weeks was buried in an unmarked grave, he and Fuselier couldn’t let that be the end of Amédé’s story.
On Amédé’s birthday in 2018, a statue was unveiled at the St. Landry Parish Tourist Center with a proclamation from Governor John Bel Edwards and hundreds of people in attendance.
“Recognizing his death as a people, white, black, young, old, we’ve changed the story to make it a celebration now which really touched my heart,” Fuselier recalled.
And Amédé Ardoin’s music lives on through his descendants who are still redefining cajun music as their great-great-ancestor did 100 years ago.
Chris Ardoin, Amede’s distant nephew, has been a zydeco musician for many years himself now and said his children are asking at an age where they are wanting to learn the instruments themselves.
He told News 10, “The future of creole and zydeco music is bright.”