Songs of the Culture
Ann Savoy’s carousel of talent
“It would be hard to recreate the music that came from extreme isolation, from daily dealings with the many diseases for which there was no cure. The early music came from people who dealt day by day with the problems of living in a nearly tropical, inhospitable, insect-ridden land. The work was hard and play was intense and liberating … The music was loud, the food spicy and heavy enough to fill up a hard working appetite.”
So writes Ann Allen Savoy in the introduction to her 1984 milestone work, Cajun Music: Reflection of a People, Vol. 1, a 416-page compendium of interviews, essays, sheet music, lyrics and stunning vintage photographs.
Savoy’s early years of cultural sleuthing from her home in Eunice, out on the Cajun prairie, were all of a piece with the life she made in marrying accordionist and master accordion maker Marc Savoy, whom she met in the 1970s when his band was playing at a Wolf Trap festival in Virginia. They married in ’77. She moved to Eunice. Soon along, she was driving into Cajun towns and hamlets to interview musicians; she carried a camera, audio and VHS recording equipment, blankets, bottles and relevant needs for whichever of her infants went with her at the time. Two sons, two daughters, all now grown.
“Call me a fanatic – I was having babies as we collected home music, lullabies, singing games and music unique to this culture,” she chuckled by phone in February, from snow-blanketed Richmond, Virginia, while visiting her mom.
The Savoy Family Cajun Band – Marc, Ann on guitar, sons Joel [pronounced Jo-el] and Wilson, each on fiddle – perform April 26, the first Sunday at Jazz Fest.
Daughter Gabrielle is a photographer in Lafayette; daughter Sarah, married and living in France, recently opened Toulouse’s Cajun Restaurant.
Ann Savoy’s extraordinary reach, as a vocalist and artist on multiple stringed instruments, has its most acclaimed feat in 2006 with Adieu False Heart, a collection of achingly beautiful duets with Linda Ronstadt.
They met when the rock star visited the Savoy home years ago with Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis. “Whenever Linda went to New Orleans I’d go there and we’d hang out,” says Savoy. “I perform a lot in San Francisco. Linda had a three-story house in the Presidio for some time. I visit her in Tucson now.”
Ronstadt’s storied career with such smash hits as “Blue Bayou” and “When Will I Be Loved” magnified the spotlight on Adieu False Heart. But a sequel is not to be. The days Savoy and Ronstadt once spent, singing through afternoons in one or another’s homes, have been eclipsed by the toll Parkinson’s disease has taken on Ronstadt, who no longer has the capacity to sing. The two women still visit often.
“I never made a record in English before Linda,” says Savoy. “The singing with Linda taught me a lot about singing in studio and ways to use your voice to make it sound better. She was almost like a tutor to me.”
In her new step forward, Black Coffee, the vocalist transitions to smoky silken lounge lizard, a role nicely in sync with the carousel of talent that is Savoy. On Black Coffee, she stands up to swinging string arrangements by Her Sleepless Nights: Kevin Wimmer on fiddle; Tom Mitchell on lead guitar and second vocal on “Embraceable You”; Eric Frey on upright bass; Chas Justice on rhythm guitar; and Glenn Fields on drums.
In addition to her work as a vocalist with Her Sleepless Nights and her role with Marc and their sons in the Savoy Family Cajun Band, Ann plays in The Savoy Doucet Cajun Band with Beausoleil fiddler Michael Doucet, and (drum roll) The Magnolia Sisters, a quartet with Jane Vidrine, Lisa Trahan and Anya Burgess, who have released Love’s Lies on the Arhoolie label.
The Magnolia Sisters received a Grammy nomination for another album, Stripped Down.
As the sun sets on Eunice for another day, Ann Savoy is compiling the more than 100 interviews she did for Cajun Music: Reflection of a People. “The footage is nice,” she says. “We’re scanning negatives, assembling pages and proofing” for Volume 2.
The babies are grown. The world waits.