Somewhere on a fall night, when the sudden chill in the air betrays the truth that there will still be warm days ahead, the melody might hit you. If you’re in a Cajun dance hall it begins with a rollicking fiddle solo either on stage or as an aged juke box begins to play. The scratchiness on the recording adds patina to the sound. On a football field at Lake Charles, the song’s opening bellows with the blast of a marching group as the McNeese Cowboy band takes to the field. Then comes the up-tempo and all the Cowboy fans know to sway to what is the university’s fight song and Cajun music’s acknowledged anthem.
Before 2022 fades way, let it not be overlooked that a Cajun waltz born out of Louisiana passion climbed high on the national country charts 75 years ago, in 1947. There were several versions of the song on Billboard’s Top 100 Country Music ranking that year. Cajun/ French spellings of the title varied with different recordings but the most popular rendition, and spelling, “Jole Blon,” (Pretty Blonde) was by Cajun fiddler Harry Choates.
Choates had recorded the song in 1946, and by January 1947 it reached Billboard’s number four spot in the folk music category. Other performers liked the song’s infectious danceability and began recording various versions of the song. There would be renditions by country superstar Ray Acuff, as well as “New Pretty Blonde” and “New Jolie Blonde” by Moon Mullican and Red Foley respectively. (Number One that year was “Here Comes Santa Clause” by Gene Autry.)
There was an earlier version of the song recorded in 1929 in Atlanta by Louisiana natives the Breaux Brothers entitled “Ma Blonde Est Parti” (My blonde has left.)
There is debate about the song’s author and just who was the pretty blonde. The song was recorded in French and English and the message is the same: She left him. He laments that she is in the arms of another. He will find another for there are plenty other pretty blondes around.
Pretty blond, you thought there was just you,
There is not just you in the land to love me.
I can find another pretty blond,
Good God knows, I have a lot.
Harry Choates could have been a Cajun Superstar except the demons – booze, hard living and womanizing – got to him.
Though born and raised in Rayne, Louisiana (the state which shaped his music and career), much of his time was spent in Texas, up to the very end. In July 1951, he was locked in an Austin jail where he began to act crazy, possibly because of the “shakes” from not having an alcohol fix. He began banging his head on the cell bars. Choates was found unconscious. He died July 17. He was only 28.
Choates reminds me of being a Hank Williams type character. Both performers had similar demons; both died unexpectedly. Williams was in the back seat of a car outside a restaurant. He died January 1,1952. He was only 29.
“Jolie Blonde” and Williams’ “Your Cheating Heart” are part of the ongoing saga of man and woman passionate yet tormented by each other. Rare is a piece of music that can serve as both a love story and a fight song.
Jole Blonde—English Version by Harry Choates.
Ed. Note, Harry Choates was born in the Acadia Parish town of Rayne December 26, 1922. This year is the centennial of his birth.
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