Louisiana celebrated the “Year of Music” in 2013. The state’s Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism launched a number of campaigns and promotions, including the web site, LouisianaSoundtrack.com. Oxford American magazine dedicated its annual Southern Music Issue to the state, along with a 21-song CD that highlighted homegrown sounds.
The attention was welcome, but only confirmed what generations here have already known – few places in America can match the original and diverse music that comes out of Louisiana.
Consider this. The Grammys, the music industry’s most celebrated honor, have been issued for 56 years. At least one Louisiana native has been nominated every year except two.
In the 2014 Grammy nominees, 11 were from Louisiana. Zydeco musician Terrance Simien, Cajun singer and songwriter Zachary Richard (who’s scored gold records in Canada), country sensation Hunter Hayes and veteran bluesman Bobby Rush were among the nominees.
Clifton Chenier, heralded as the King of Zydeco, received Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted in a 2014 class that also included the Beatles, Isley Brothers and Kris Kristofferson. In 2011, Chenier was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for his landmark album, “Bogalusa Boogie.”
The Grammys even owes Louisiana for its name. New Orleans native Jay Danna won a national contest in 1958 to name the award. When Danna was a young girl and played the music too loud on her record player, or gramophone, her mother would yell “Turn down that grammy.”
The world can’t turn down the music of Louisiana, which not only includes native sounds like jazz, Cajun, zydeco and swamp pop. But country, rap, blues, gospel and rockabilly are prominent throughout the state.
Britney Spears, one of music’s all-time, best-selling artists with more than 100 million albums sold, is from Kentwood, La. Tim McGraw, one of country music’s top sellers, is a native of Delhi, La. Superstar rapper Lil Wayne comes from New Orleans, as does Master P, rapper and record entrepreneur with more than 75 million in sales.
Arguments can even be made that Louisiana is the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis, charter members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, are Bayou State natives.
Before Elvis Presley became known as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, he performed in 1954 on the “Louisiana Hayride,” a popular radio program broadcasted from the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium. His first TV appearance was on a television version of the program in 1955.
Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and George Jones were among the country acts that rose to prominence on the “Louisiana Hayride.”
Visitors only need take a musical drive through Louisiana to experience where these diverse and historic sounds originate. North Louisiana is not only home of the “Hayride.” But country stars like McGraw, Trace Adkins and Jimmie Davis, Louisiana’s Singing Governor, have come from that region.
In 1940, Davis recorded the ever-popular “You Are My Sunshine,” which was later named one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America.
The prairies and swamps of South Louisiana are the cradle of Cajun music, zydeco and swamp pop, genres reflective of the French-speaking Acadians, Creoles, Africans and other ethnicities who settled in the region over hundreds of years. Cajun and zydeco, both accordion-driven, dance music, have produced Grammy winners BeauSoleil, Wayne Toups, Clifton Chenier and Rockin’ Sidney, creator of the million seller, “Don’t Mess with My Toot Toot.”
Since the 1950s, the state capital of Baton Rouge has been known for swamp blues. Artists like Slim Harpo “Rainin’ in My Heart”, Kenny Neal and Buddy Guy enjoying worldwide followings.
Besides being the home of jazz pioneers Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and others, New Orleans has deep roots in Dixieland, brass bands, blues, R&B, rap and gospel, through artists like Professor Longhair, the Neville Brothers, Irma Thomas and Mahalia Jackson.
Find out more about the state’s music treasures and destinations at LouisianaTravel.com and Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.org.
With so many joyful sounds originating and still thriving within its borders, the state can claim every year as the Year of Louisiana music.
Herman Fuselier is a writer and broadcaster living in Opelousas, La. Listen to his Zydeco Stomp radio show from 12-3 p.m. CST on KRVS 88.7 FM and online at www.krvs.org.