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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

Brothers"

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

accordionist

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

and dance.

This 25th anniversary tour features guests Darol Anger, Cindy

Cashdollar,

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

proudly

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

last March.

"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

people

are always so nice to us, people can dance, and it’s just like playing

at home."

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

indigenous

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

1970s,

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

Louisiana-East

Texas slant.

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

musicians,

because to us, it’s just French dance music from Louisiana."

Ardoin,

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

that point.

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

Live"

indicates many traditional tunes that have been rearranged by Doucet

and company, and even a Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew tune,

"It’s

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

started

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,

"that’s

what propel us, keeps us doing what we’re doing, and holds us

together."

— Richard J. Skelly

BeauSoleil, McCarter Theater, 91 University Place,

609-258-2787. BeauSoleil with Michael Doucet. $25 to $36. Friday,

March 9, 8 p.m.

Top Of Page
Auditions

Villagers Theater announces auditions for "Kids Vill

Kabaret" talent show performed by children ages 6 to 12. Singers,

dancer, instrumentalists, comedians, magicians, solos, or groups

auditions

at 475 DeMott Lane, Somerset, on Saturday, March 17, and Saturday,

March 24. Call 732-873-2710.

Top Of Page
Student Literati

The Arts Council of Princeton is seeking original poetry

or short prose from students under 18 for the next edition of

"Under

Age." Submissions must be received by Friday, March 16. Call

609-924-8777.

New Jersey Poetry Society student poetry competition

invites

submissions from student in grades 6 to 12. Deadline is Thursday,

March 29. Call 609-882-4784.

Reading Rainbow Seventh Annual Young Writers and

Illustrators

Contest, for children K to Grade 3, accepts entries through Friday,

March 16. Entries from kindergarten and first grade must contain

50-200

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.

The New Jersey Rainbow Poets is sponsoring a religious

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

www.freecontest.com.

No fee; deadline is April 20. Contact John Scribner at

john@mighty.net.

Top Of Page
Participate Please

Hunterdon Museum of Art seeks artists who make children’s

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.

The Arts Council of Princeton seeks crafters, artists,

food and merchandise vendors, local performers, and non-profit

organizations for Communiversity scheduled for Saturday, April 28.

Call 609-924-8777.

Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, the state

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.

New Jersey Historical Commission is offering a mentoring

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.

League of Women Voters of New Jersey has published the

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

www.lwvnj.org.

Jewish Community Center of the Delaware Valleyis looking

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.

Rutgers University Academy for Lifelong Learning invites

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.

Rutgers’ Center of Alcohol Studies is seeking couples

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

alcoholic

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.

The National Arbor Day Foundation has published a booklet

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,

National

Arbor Day Foundation, Nebraska City, NE 68410.

Quail Ridge Press seeks cookbooks published by

organizations,

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,

800-343-1583, www.quailridge.com.

Top Of Page
Volunteer Alert

Contact of Mercer County New Jersey is looking for

volunteers

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.

Literacy Volunteers, Mercer County seeks tutors to help

the Basic Literacy and English as a Second Language students. Tutor

training classes are on Tuesdays, from 6 to 9 p.m., for seven

consecutive

weeks beginning on March 27. Training and books are free. Three

sessions

will be held at the Hamilton Library, three at Princeton Library,

and one at Wheaton Pointe in East Windsor. Call June Vogel at

609-393-8855.

Top Of Page
Donations

Boys & Girls Club of Trenton/Mercer County needs help

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

contributions

to Boys & Girls Club of Trenton, 212 Centre Street, Trenton 08611.

Top Of Page
Education

All Kinds of Minds announces a "Schools Attuned"

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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