Many traditional Cajun songs are the ones that have been handed down for several generations. A good bit of these were created long before the Acadians ever came to North America. I chose my words carefully, when I said created, because these songs were handed down by way of rote memory from one generation to another. They weren't remembered the same. They weren't sung the same. Therefore, the end result was sometimes several versions of the same song.
Much like the raconteur tales of old, according to the tastes of the performer, the lyrics of the songs were often improvised or made up as they went along. This created an on-going evolution as the songs were in a constant flow of change. These early Cajun songs were generally performed as unaccompanied ballads. They were narrative songs.
The songs were rooted in themes that were about the lives the Acadian and Cajun people lived. They sprang from the gut and were filled with lyrics about loss of love, home, family. They sang about the exile of our people, our loneliness and isolation, love, and our joys.
Then, there were the ritual songs -- the ones that were sang at funerals, weddings, holidays, and special occasions. Some of these early Cajun songs matched very similar in structure to American folk music of other ethnic groups. These were the expected dance songs, the reels and jigs, the contredanses -- that the Cajun people adopted from other cultures and made their own.
What's unique about traditional Cajun songs is that they have retained a good bit of the Cajun French language. Even though today, these same songs are sung in English or part English/part French, the essence is retained. Revivalist efforts to sing the songs as they were originally sung, is still an important goal among the Cajun French.
Interpretation and Evolution of Traditional Cajun Songs
It's the singer... not the song... or is it the song... not the singer?
Both the Cajun song and the singer had outside influences or inspirations. Unique to Cajun music, is the impact that the lack of electricity in rural southwest Louisiana had upon the evolution of many of the early songs. Cajun music is primarily dance music. The old dance halls, the fais dodos --were mostly buildings, bars, or barns that generally didn't have finished ceilings. Usually, the buildings consisted of bare rafters, and certainly no insulation. In the days of pre-electricity -- the singer also had no amplifier or microphone. In order to be heard, they had to sing high-pitched and thunderously loud.
Additionally, the key in which Cajun music was sung, as our music evolved -- had to be sung in a key that complimented the Cajun accordion, which was generally in the key of C or D. It took a lot of stamina to belt out these songs. Also, the French language is spoken at a different pitch, or somewhat more nasally than English, so this added another dimension. Emotion is another important dimension, that is absolutely vital to the traditional Cajun tune.
Another contributor to Cajun vocals, was the time period in which the song was written or became popular. For instance, prior to the accordion, Cajun music songs were often more along the line of a ballad or reel. Later, after the accordion found some disfavor and string bands were more popular, the songs are considered to be more joyful. Additionally, it's important to mention that the outside influence of non-Cajun and non-French speaking fans of Cajun music -- have definitely played a role in changing the way Americans and the world perceive Cajun songs.
In the end, it boils down to -- the biggest influence on Cajun songs, is the interpretation, evolution of the song and style that each individual vocalist gave to the tunes. It's both the singer and the song!
Comparison Example of the Evolution of One Popular Cajun Song - Jolie Blon
In thinking about how to explain the evolution of Cajun songs, I've chosen for an example, the ever popular tune -- Jolie Blon --as it is the one song (next to Jambalaya) most non-Cajuns are familiar with. It's sometimes known as the "Cajun National Anthem."
Originally, it's believed the song was titled, "Ma Blonde Est Partie" (My Blond Went and Left Me) and it was sung entirely in Cadien(Cajun French). Some believe, however, that the song evolved from "La Fille d' la Veuve" (The Widow's Daughter), a much older Acadian or French song.
Jolie blonde, regardez donc quoi t'as fait,
Tu m'as quitte pour t'en aller,
Pour T'en aller avec un autre, oui, que moi,
Quel espoir et quel avenir, mais, moi, je vais avoir?
Jolie blonde, tu croyais il y avait just toi,
Il y a pas just toi dans le pays pour moi aimer.
Je peux trouver just une autre jolie blonde,
Bon Dieu sait, moi, j'ai un tas.
Jolie blonde, tu croyais il y avait just toi,
Il y a pas just toi dans le pays pour moi aimer.
Je peux trouver just une autre jolie blonde,
Bon Dieu sait, moi, j'ai un tas.
Jolie blonde, mourir, ca serait pas rien,
C'est de rester dans la terre aussi longtemps,
Moi jives pas quoi faire si tu reviens pas, bebe,
T'en revenior avec moi dans la Louisiane.
This last verse (italics below) in the English version was also not always performed in different areas of Louisiana and outside of Louisiana.
Pretty blonde, so look what you did,
You left me to go,
To go off with another than me,
What hope and what future am I gonna' have?
Pretty Blonde, you left me alone,
To go back to your family,
If you hand't listened to the advice of the others,
You'd be here today with me.
Pretty blonde, you thought you were the only one,
You're not the only one in the country for me to love,
I'm going to find just one other pretty blonde,
God knows, that I love so much.
Pretty blonde, to die would be nothing,
It's just staying in the earth for a long time,
I don't see what I'm gonna' do if you don't come back baby,
Come back with me in Louisiana.
By the time it was first recorded in 1928, entitled, "Jolie Blonde" by Amedie, Ophy, and Cleoma Breaux -- the words in Cadien were the same, but the last verse (in italics above in French) was missing. Because of it's popularity, the English translation of the words soon became familiar to the non-Cajun speaking. Their version, once it was translated and circulated in English, came out slightly different.
Pretty blond, look at what you've done,
You left me to go away,
to go away with another, yes, than me,
What hope and what future am I going to have?
Pretty blond, you've left me all alone
To go back to your family.
If you had not listened to all the advice of the others
You would be here with me today.
Pretty blond, you thought there as 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.
Here's Where the Evolution of Jolie Blon Rapidly Changes
Because of the English speaking listeners familiarity of the song, soon "Jolie Blondie" became just "Jolie Blon" with the last two letters being dropped from the spelling in the title. The song mutated, as for a while, Cajun music's popularity faded and the song in English, was more accepted. During this era, Cajun music had been somewhat replaced by more popular Texas swing and country western music (1950s). Then, all of a sudden, we had Roy Acuff's version of Jolie Blon (He was an early American country-western vocalist) :
In the evening, in the shadows,
I'll be waiting, in Louisi- an - a,
And when I hear your sweet voice,
I'll rejoice, I'll be happy,
And saving my kisses for you.
Jole Blon, Cajun angel,
Let me tell you how I love you,
In the springtime you promised,
That we would be married,
And I'm waiting, still waiting for you.
Oh - - ho - - ho, ah - - ha - - ha
When your hair turns to silver,
I'll still call you, Delta Flower,
Pretty blond I still love you,
I love you I promise,
And I'm patiently waiting for you.
Oh - - ho - - ho, ah - - ha - - ha.
Let me tell you, when my Grandpere heard first heard this version, he flipped off the radio abruptly and had a few choice Cadien words to say about English speaking "foreigners" stealing and copying Cajun songs! He was upset for days.
So, the first time I heard Bruce Springsteen's rock n' roll version of Jolie Blon, I couldn't help but laugh, as I thought about what Grandpere Emile's strong opinion would have been, had he been still alive to hear these words:
Jole Blon, you're my flower
You're my darling, you're my sunshine
I love you, I adore you
I promise to be true
Over here in the shadows
I will be waiting, I will
When I hear you're voice I rejoice
I save my love for you
Jole Blon, you're an angel
Can I tell you how I love you?
In the spring I swear we will be married
I'm waiting still for you
When your hair turns to silver
I will still call you my flower
Jole Blon I'll still love you
I'll save my love for you
We will go away from this city
We will go back girl, to our home
I swear some day I will take you
'Cause so far away we have roamed
And the bells they will ring
From the mountain to the valley
On the banks of this river, where you'll be my bride.
Here are four separate video versions of "Jolie Blon" for your comparison and enjoyment. As you listen to them, remember -- most traditionalist Cajuns would prefer for the world, to stay true to our original song lyrics and language.
I personally, think it will be interesting to see what comes next, as this traditional Cajun song adapts to the times and people of today. God forbid it be a rap version! That said by someone, of course, old enough to have grandchildren living in the house. I have to admit here, that I am a Cajun music and history preservationist -- which means I far prefer the original Cadien words and lyrics.
First Version - More Traditional - Dewey Balfa and Nathan Abshire
Second Version - Jolie Blon - Brenda Boyken -- A Whole Different Style and Lyrics
Fourth Version - Jolie Blon Makes It to Rock N' Roll Via Bruce Springsteen
The Cajun Vocalists and Their Songs
As you can see from just the one tune above, Cajun songs are not the same song, when sung by different vocalists. The lyrics change, the song changes, or evolves, with the times, the language it is sung in, and the style of the artist -- all can be very different from another artist or location of popularity.
Certainly, no discussion of the songs themselves, would be complete without a suggested list of traditional Cajun songs -- that everyone who appreciates this genre of music should become familiar with:
- Traditional Cajun Ballads (Story Songs) - (1) St. J'aurais Des Alles; (2) Je M'endors; (3) La Fille De Quatorze Ans; (4)Aux Natchitoches; (5) La Valse de quatre-vingt-dix-neuf ans (aka The Convict Waltz or 99 Year Waltz); (6) Allons A Lafayette; (7) Le Gran Mamou; (8)La Valse de la France; (9) Sunday Morning Song; and (10) The Seven-Year Waltz.
- Traditional and Modern Cajun Ritual Songs - (1) The Christmas Drinking Song; and (2) La Chanson De La Nouvelle Annee; (3)Quand J'étais Vaillante; (4) Si J'aurais des Ailes; and (5) Mon Bon Vieux Mari.
- Traditional Mardi Gras Song - La Danse De Mardi Gras.
Additionally, here is a suggested list of Cajun vocalists, that all fans of Cajun music should explore:
Female Cajun vocalists:
- Jeanette Aguillard
- Shelia Agillard
- Christine Balfa
- Valerie Benoit
- Helen Boudreaux
- Cleoma Falcon
- Suzanne Fallon-Diaz
- Mary Gauthier
- Kristi Guillory
- Ashley Hayes
- Becky Richard
- Ann Savoy
- Donna Thibodeaux
- Eva Touchet
Male Cajun vocalists:
- Fernest "Man" Abshire
- Amedee Ardoin
- Lee Benoit
- Shirley Ray Bergeron
- Bruce Daigrepont
- Camey Doucet
- Ivy Dugas
- Robert Elkins
- Don Fontenot
- Ed Gary
- Hunter Hayes
- Adam Hebert
- Robert Jardell
- D.L. Menard
- Kevin Naquin
- Jimmy C. Newman
- Leroy "Happy Fats" LeBlanc
- Richard LeBoeuf
- Iry Lejeune
- Belton Richard
- Jo-el Sonnier
NOTE: If I've forgotten anyone important, please let me know, as I constantly try to improve any hubs I have posted.
If You'd Like to Know More!
- A Brief History of Cajun, Creole, and Zydeco Music
A Brief History of Cajun, Creole, and Zydeco Music.
- Cajun Folk Songs by Frank Ticheli
- Cajun and Zydeco Christmas songs (Louisiana Christmas Songs)
Clarence's Christmas songs in the Cajun and Zydeco format
Big Bayou Bandits - Fille De Houma
Bryan Lasseigne on August 02, 2012:
do you have any pictures of man abshire? im adopted and i was informed he was my biological father?
Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on March 02, 2012:
Thanks Alastar Packer! I am sure there were other people who didn't know about that version.
Alastar Packer from North Carolina on March 01, 2012:
Hey Jerilee I enjoyed this Cajun music fest. A tad embarrassed to say I hadn't even heard The Bosses version of Jolie Blon so quite a treat here!
Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on March 01, 2012:
Thanks Earl Snyder! I have him on another article about Cajun performers and had to leave him and others out on this one when the article got too long. He's a distant cousin of mine so I certainly am not likely to forget him.
Earl Snyder on March 01, 2012:
Why isn't the Bayou Bad Boy Wayne Toups mentioned? He is one fine performer,he deserves mention!!!!
Priscilla J on May 25, 2011:
A question for you: Nearly 40 years ago I was in Louisiana (had a French friend with me who kept going into grocery stores and coming out saying "C'est encore le dix-septième!") There were many many signs for "Plantation Music" records, dances, etc. . .and I've never been able to find out what that meant . . I hypothesized probably zydeco? Do you know? Someday I'll get to the Cochon de Lait festival again . .
Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on February 24, 2011:
Thanks Doris! Ha Ha I forgot about that.
Doris on February 24, 2011:
Good article but one correction. Shirley Ray Bergeron was a male. He was a strong advocate of promoting the Cajun French culture and music.
Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on January 07, 2011:
Thanks tammy J! I agree, but due to site limitations I couldn't list many that I like.
tammy J. on January 06, 2011:
what about Bernie Allan ? He plays great cajun music.
Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on November 27, 2010:
Thanks Jack Purvis! I believe I mentioned him in a previous article, if not, I certainly meant to.
Jack Purvis on November 24, 2010:
What about Harry Choates? Or have I missed him in your blog? He wrote Joli Blon and an acute alcoholic, he sold the rights for $100 and a bottle of whiskey.
Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on March 18, 2010:
Thanks Michael Shane! Glad to hear that.
Michael Shane from Gadsden, Alabama on March 17, 2010:
I love this hub! I have always enjoyed the Cajun sounds & atmosphere...Definitely, will have to bookmark this hub & look forward to reading more...Thanks!
Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on February 12, 2010:
Thanks Hope1Cajun! You know, back when I wrote this article I'd forgotten all about Pott Folse. Thanks for the reminder.
Hope1Cajun on February 11, 2010:
Growing up in South Louisiana, our family always listened to Pott Folse, a Cajun singer who sings in Cajun French.
Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on January 06, 2010:
Good hub. Cajun music follows pretty much the same pattern as all traditional folk music as you describe. That's what I have always found interesting about folk ballads is that one can find many versions of the same song.It differs from popular music in that regard. I really like Cajun music as well as Zedigo (sp?)Although my mother was French Canadian I don't know any French.
Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on August 07, 2009:
Thanks arnest tauzin! I agree, I'll be adding to this article in the near future.
arnest tauzin on August 07, 2009:
in the list of cajun male vocalist i would like to see Walter Mouton added to the list i think he is a great vocalist and accordion player
Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on June 20, 2009:
Thanks A. M. Gwynn! No place like NO for having fun and good music.
A.M. Gwynn on June 20, 2009:
Beautiful Hub!! So informative and interesting. I loved the videos. When I lived in New Orleans they had this club that strictly played authentic Cajun, now I can't rememeber the name of it. I'm not sure it is even there now. It was in the early '80's. Nice read!
Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on December 05, 2008:
Thanks robie2! Glad you enjoyed this, hope you caught the others in this series on Cajun music.
Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on December 04, 2008:
How did I miss this one? Thanks so much. I loved the videos and have always wanted to know more about Cajun music. I remember when I visited Quebec being surprised to find that the music there sounded like "cajun" music and then realized that the " Acadians" went to Louisiana from Canada so why wouldn't the music be the same.....I have much to learn I see and I'm off to youtube to listen a bit after I give you a big thumbs up!
Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on October 25, 2008:
He is to a certain extent, but didn't make the list which was focused on artists more known for performing in traditional Cajun music styles.
Morris on October 24, 2008:
Why wouldn't Doug Kershaw be considered a cajun vocalist?