En Français, s’il vous plaît: Women musicians on stage

Festivals Acadiens et Créoles celebrate women musicians and 90 years of “Jolie Blonde”.
Christine Balfa, Balfa Toujours, Fest Acadiens & Creole 2018

“In those days, if a woman went and sang with a band, they didn’t think you were too much, but I was with my aunt and uncle, my momma and my daddy so they couldn’t say nothing.” In the documentary “J’ai été au bal (I went to the dance),” Solange Marie Falcon expressed the general opinion when people saw female musicians on stage in her younger days. Yet her aunt was Cléoma Falcon, who, along with her husband Joe, recorded the first Cajun record in 1928. It was decidedly not a woman’s place, even in the company of her family. The traditional role of women in music had mostly been in the homes where they spent evenings singing and listening to ballads passed down from mother to daughter, even if one did not accept them in public. The songs preserved by Lula Landry, Inez Catalon, Agnès Bourque and many others are now part of the contemporary repertoire. Today, we are witnessing a new wave of female musicians, but it took a long time before more women went on stage.

Sheryl Cormier, the Queen of the Cajun accordion, is a bridge between the two eras. Her career – which started playing with her parents, her mother on drums – has spanned six decades and has been crowned several times, notably by the Cajun Culture Association and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. Recently she received the Acadian Heritage Award at the latest Acadian Culture Day at Vermilionville. The Magnolia Sisters have also preserved this link between the past and the present.

While these women encouraged others to find their voices, some attitudes nevertheless persisted. Kristi Guillory, musician since her childhood and co-founder of the group “Bonsoir, Catin” had long struggled to be taken seriously and not be a mere novelty act. Christine Balfa, daughter of the “Godfather” of Cajun music Dewey Balfa, pregnant with her first child, had just finished a four-hour show with her band “Balfa Toujours” when a gentleman asked her if she was expecting a boy or a girl. Hearing it was a girl, he said, “Too bad. He could have been a musician.” Seventeen years later, this girl, Amelia Powell, takes her place among a new generation of musicians that can be found in bands like T-World, the Babineaux Sisters, Sweet Cecilia, Daiquiris Queens and others.

In addition to honoring all these women, Festivals Acadiens et Créoles mark the 90th anniversary of what is considered to be the Cajun national anthem, “Jolie Blonde”. Originally titled “Ma Blonde est partie (My Blonde is gone)”, the Breaux Brothers were the first to record it before it metamorphosed into the female archetype we recognize in other songs. There from the beginning, but not always recognized, the women of Cajun music, in myth or in reality, have never “left us to go away” as the song says.

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