He doesn’t sing or play a musical instrument, but in the past year, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne has been immersing himself in all things Louisiana music. Dardenne and his office are on an important mission: to show the world the diversity and cultural importance that the state of Louisiana had – and continues to have – on music.
Think about it: Where would contemporary music be without jazz, Cajun, zydeco, swamp pop, funk, brass bands, New Orleans-style R&B and bounce, to name a few? And don’t forget Louisiana Hayride, which took a chance on a young Elvis Presley!
The question of where we’d be without Louisiana music doesn’t need an answer, fortunately. But if you don’t know what Louisiana music is all about by the end of 2013, it won’t be from a lack of events and projects either originating from or being supported by Dardenne’s office.
In March 2012, Dardenne launched Louisiana Soundtrack, www.louisianasoundtrack.com, a Web site about Louisiana music. Want to know where to see music in Monroe? Find out where the blues festivals are statewide? Or what the Top 25 Louisiana songs are? It’s all here on the site.
Dardenne’s office also partnered with Oxford American on its Southern music issue. Published November 2012, the issue focused on Louisiana music with an eclectic sampling of musicians and music and contained a complimentary CD. It also kicked off a year of celebrations throughout the state, starting January 2013 in Shreveport with From Elvis to Hank to Johnny: Celebrating 65 Years of Louisiana Hayride.
The musical tribute that aired on Louisiana Public Broadcasting in December 2012, Sunshine by the Stars: Celebrating Louisiana Music, is an homage to one of Louisiana’s most popular songs, “You Are My Sunshine,” recorded by Gov. Jimmy Davis.
“My idea for Sunshine by the Stars was to create a musical event celebrating our 200 years of history that would be enjoyed by Louisianians and shared with public television audiences across the country,” Dardenne says. “Every Louisiana musical legend we asked to participate agreed to do so at no charge. Harry Connick Jr. said he would host the event and came up with the concept of having each Louisiana legend perform the iconic song ‘You Are My Sunshine’ in their own style. The result is a tribute to the many genres of music that contribute to the fabric of our state.”
A native of Baton Rouge, Dardenne has been in politics since his days at Louisiana State University, when he served as president of the student body and was the student member of the LSU Board of Supervisors. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and then received a law degree from the LSU Law Center.
Dardenne ran for his first office, state senator, in 1987. He lost that race but the next year ran for a seat on the East Baton Rouge Metropolitan Council, a position he held until 1992 when he became a state senator. In 2006, he became secretary of state, and in 2010, he became lieutenant governor.
As lieutenant governor, Dardenne is, he says, “an official ambassador for the state, promoting all things great about Louisiana.” Dardenne runs the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, which includes the Office of Tourism, the Office of State Parks, the State Museum System, the State Library and the Office of Cultural Development (including the arts, archeology, historic preservation and cultural districts). The department also includes the Audubon Golf Trail; Louisiana Serve (a clearinghouse for volunteerism); the Atchafalaya Heritage Trail; the Scenic Byway Program; and Louisiana’s retirement initiative, which recently has been re-branded as “Retire Louisiana Style.” Also, working with the Louisiana Bicentennial Commission, he coordinated the 2012 celebration of the bicentennial of statehood.
All of this creates a schedule that keeps him on the road a solid two days a week. And it seems like those days on the road may end up increasing, as 2013 amps up what started in 2012. And then: “In 2014, we anticipate having a ‘celebration of Louisiana’s creative culture’ with an emphasis on the arts and artistic creativity and how it can be an attractive tool for job development and bringing visitors to Louisiana,” Dardenne says.
It doesn’t seem like Dardenne will be slowing down any time soon.