Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard Skelly was prepared for the March 7, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
BeauSoleil: Blues Brothers of Cajun Culture
In the early 1970s, when Michael Doucet (pronounced
doo-say) first formed BeauSoleil, interest in Cajun culture, zydeco
music, and his part of southwest Louisiana was at a low ebb. Doucet
and his brother, guitarist Michael, were like "the Blues
in the 1980s movie of the same name. They were "on a mission from
God" to preserve, protect, and disseminate this uniquely American
musical form. Money was not a part of the formula.
In Doucet’s case, this included both Cajun and zydeco music, since
by the time he formed BeauSoleil — a group named for a region
of Nova Scotia where many of his descendants lived before settling
in southwest Louisiana — he had performed with both Cajun and
zydeco musicians. The group’s name, pronounced beau-so-lay, literally
means beautiful sun. Doucet’s early mentors included zydeco
Clifton Chenier, as well as Doucet’s own uncles who continued the
Cajun musical traditions at family get-togethers.
BeauSoleil brings their ever-evolving band, which includes unique
instruments like triangle, two fiddles, drums, and percussion, to
McCarter Theater on Friday, March 9, with a show that will have the
audience tapping their feet, even though there’s no room to get up
This 25th anniversary tour features guests Darol Anger, Cindy
Sonny Landreth, and Carl Landry.
Speaking from his home last week in Lafayette Parish, about seven
miles from the city of Lafayette, Louisiana, Doucet is clear about
when the band had its first big break: it was an appearance at the
1976 National Folk Festival at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia.
"It was the first place outside Louisiana, but in the States,"
he cautions, "that we were asked to play." Doucet notes
the band had played in France and Canada before this.
"After we went to that festival, it kind of changed things for
us," he explains. So it’s appropriate the band’s current album,
"Looking Back Tomorrow: BeauSoleil Live" (Rhino Records) is
a recording of a live performance the band made in the same location
"We figured after 25 years it would be a good place to go back
to, because the sound is so good in there," he says of the Barns
at Wolf Trap, a theater built with lots of wood. "It’s basically
a totally refurbished barn, there are some incredible beams of wood
in there, and it’s just an amazing place," he adds. "The
are always so nice to us, people can dance, and it’s just like playing
Recalling the ground-breaking gig in 1976 — the band played at
Jimmy Carter’s inauguration the following year — Doucet says,
"it made us feel good, because it’s music that I love, and for
them to have such a big turnout for us and for us to have such a great
reception was a big eye-opener for us. We didn’t know what a big break
was at that time, but it was a big break."
Doucet, an English major at Louisiana State University who graduated
in 1973, began playing fiddle at age 7, tutored along by his uncle
T-Will Knight, one of his father’s many brothers.
"My father was a CPA," he explains, "a retired pilot from
the Air Force and we lived on a farm. He originally had nine other
brothers and sisters and my grandfather, who owned a lot of land,
divided up his land amongst his children. All of my father’s sisters
sang old time French ballads and I first learned to play fiddle from
my uncle T-Will Knight." Doucet didn’t actually own a fiddle until
he was in his late teens, but there were always a variety of
musical instruments around at family gatherings, he explains.
BeauSoleil has six other releases on Rhino Records, a West Coast label
known for superb reissues, and a number of recordings out on Rounder
Records, the Boston-based roots music record company.
The band’s personnel has remained pretty much constant since the
with the exception of bassist Tommy Como, who died several years ago,
Doucet explains. At McCarter, Doucet, who sings and writes many of
the band’s songs with his brother Michael, will be joined by Jimmy
Breaux, accordions, Al Tharp, bass and fiddle, Tommy Alesi, drums,
and Billy Ware, percussion. Also joining them on this leg of the tour
will be the extraordinary guitarist and songwriter, Sonny Landreth,
a blues and zydeco music specialist who first made his mark with the
bands of Clifton Chenier and John Hiatt. Landreth’s current album,
"Levee Town" has received good reviews, as do most of his
albums, which contain blues songs with a strong southwest
Unlike so many other bands who have followed the trail
blazed by BeauSoleil who are either Cajun or zydeco, Doucet’s band
freely performs both. Whereas Cajun music is more rooted in the white
country music experience in southwest Louisiana, zydeco is a more
rhythm-heavy form of music initially played by blacks that borrows
heavily from classic blues and rhythm-and-blues.
"Amede Ardoin was one of the first black Creole accordion players
to record," he explains, "yet he used a white fiddle player
named Dennis McGee on his records. So that’s kind of our base, and
from there, we branch out. We’re not pure zydeco musicians, but I
write zydeco songs and I’ve played over the years with zydeco
because to us, it’s just French dance music from Louisiana."
born in 1898, laid the groundwork for Cajun music and introduced the
blues into the form.
Back in the late 1970s, when blues and other forms of roots music
were at a low ebb, BeauSoleil was slowly making inroads outside of
Louisiana, playing the prestigious Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1977,
and spreading awareness of the music.
"There were definitely no roads made for us when we first started
doing this," Doucet explains, "and it was challenging, because
we wanted to do it, but we wanted to do it on our terms." Doucet
says 1986 was a pivotal year, since all members were able to leave
their day jobs for six months and go full time with their music at
While BeauSoleil’s albums are sprinkled with many of Doucet’s original
songs, they also pay homage in all of their live performances to the
pioneers of Cajun and zydeco music, Amade Ardoin and Clifton Chenier.
A look at the credits on "Looking Back Tomorrow: BeauSoleil
indicates many traditional tunes that have been rearranged by Doucet
and company, and even a Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew tune,
You I Love."
"We played all the time as kids," Doucet explains. "But
in 1986, we all had our day jobs and we were being asked to play more
and more places on weekends. We recorded three albums that year and
that’s when we decided to take this full-time. That six month leave
has turned into the last 14 years."
"From the outset, we all knew none of us ever wanted to leave
Louisiana," he says, adding, "that’s how it was when we
this band and we’ve pretty much kept it that way."
"What really binds us is we all know the music is much greater
than you are, and we’re part of that now," he explains,
what propel us, keeps us doing what we’re doing, and holds us
— Richard J. Skelly
609-258-2787. BeauSoleil with Michael Doucet. $25 to $36. Friday,
March 9, 8 p.m.
Kabaret" talent show performed by children ages 6 to 12. Singers,
dancer, instrumentalists, comedians, magicians, solos, or groups
at 475 DeMott Lane, Somerset, on Saturday, March 17, and Saturday,
March 24. Call 732-873-2710.
or short prose from students under 18 for the next edition of
Age." Submissions must be received by Friday, March 16. Call
submissions from student in grades 6 to 12. Deadline is Thursday,
March 29. Call 609-882-4784.
Contest, for children K to Grade 3, accepts entries through Friday,
March 16. Entries from kindergarten and first grade must contain
words and entries from second and third graders must contain 100-350
words. Winners of NJN’s regional Reading Rainbow competition will
be invited to a celebration at Barnes & Noble, MarketFair. Contact
NJN at 609-777-3991 for applications or visit: www.njn.net.
poetry contest with 28 prizes that total $3,000. To enter, send one
poem only of 21 lines or less to: Religious Poetry Contest, PMB 70,
103 North Wood Avenue, Linden, NJ 07036. Or enter online at
No fee; deadline is April 20. Contact John Scribner at
toys, dolls, games, furniture, clothes and children’s performers to
focus on hands-on activities, theatrical, and musical entertainment,
to participate in "Art in the Open: A Children’s Art Festival"
to be held on Sunday, June 3, in historic Clinton. Call 908-735-8415.
food and merchandise vendors, local performers, and non-profit
organizations for Communiversity scheduled for Saturday, April 28.
organization that provides grants to non-profit organization for
performance engagements of Pennsylvania performing artists, has
expanded to cover presenters in New Jersey. For guidelines and
application, call 215-496-9424 or visit www.pennpat.org.
program for potential grant applications. They are designed to assist
organization in preparing application for General Operating Support
and Special Projects. Applicant will be paired with an experienced
grant writer or reviewer. Call Dorothy Hartman at 973-293-3684.
2001 New Jersey Citizens Guide to Government. The 72-page pocket-sized
book contains information about voter registration, procedures,
political parties, government, courts, contact numbers, and election
deadline. Individual copies are $6.80. Call 800-792-VOTE or visit
for teams of basketball players from the corporate and professional
world to play in a league beginning Monday, April 16, and extending
through June. Play will be at the Center, 999 Lower Ferry Road, Ewing.
Call Jeff Hirschman at 609-883-9550.
New Jersey residents over age 50 to their hassle-free, test-free,
adventure in learning. Ten-week semester begins Monday, March 12,
at the Reformed Church of Highland Park. Classes include jazz, opera
and classical music, film, history, foreign affairs, art, haiku,
writing, live theater, and concerts. Call 732-932-7233.
to participate in the "Rutgers Couples Assistance Program,"
a treatment outcome study funded by the National Institute of Drug
Abuse. A modified form of couples therapy successful in treating
couples is used in committed, heterosexual relationships. Couples
are needed in which the male has abused drugs but does not use IV
heroin, is psychiatrically stable, and is between the ages of 18 and
75. Treatment protocol includes interviews, therapy sessions for six
months, and follow-up interviews. Call 732-445-0901.
about "Conservation Trees" with information on how to plant
shade trees, how to prune them, and how to attract songbirds. For
the free booklet, send name and address to Conservation Trees,
Arbor Day Foundation, Nebraska City, NE 68410.
church groups, or individuals in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and
Washington D.C., to be considered for possible inclusion in "Best
of the Best from the Mid-Atlantic: Selected Recipes from Delaware,
New Jersey, Washington D.C." Contact Barbara Moseley, editor,
"Best of the Best State Cookbook Series," Quail Ridge Press,
to maintain its free 24-hour telephone crisis hotline. Three training
courses begin on Wednesday, March 21, or Saturday, March 31, at St.
Mark United Methodist Church in Hamilton. Call 609-896-2120.
the Basic Literacy and English as a Second Language students. Tutor
training classes are on Tuesdays, from 6 to 9 p.m., for seven
weeks beginning on March 27. Training and books are free. Three
will be held at the Hamilton Library, three at Princeton Library,
and one at Wheaton Pointe in East Windsor. Call June Vogel at
in paying for instructors, supplies, and finances for their social
and athletic programs. Trenton Police Department places children,
who have gotten into trouble with the law, in the organization for
guidance and a second chance. Over the last two years, the enrollment
has grown from 200 to over 700 children. Not one child in the program
has had further police intervention. Call 609-392-3191 or send
to Boys & Girls Club of Trenton, 212 Centre Street, Trenton 08611.
summer workshop in Princeton from Monday, August 13, to Friday, August
17. It is aimed at teachers, covers eight neurodevelopmental areas
that affect learning, and uses comprehensive observations to
understand each child’s learning behavior. The program is based on
over 25 years of research by pediatrician Mel Levine. Tuition is
$1,200. Call 888-956-4637 or visit www.allkindsofminds.org.
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