Tite Négre "the little black guy"
French Creole recording artist
The first Creole
French recordings were cut soon after Joseph Falcon hit with
"Lafayette" in 1928. The best known early artist was Amadie (Amade) Ardoin, who was
affectionately calle Tite Negre, "the little black guy."
On record he had a delightfully crisp, clean, crying sound;
his singing and accordion styles were very much white cajun.
Ardoin was signed by Columbia in late 1928 after winning an
accordian and fiddle contest in Opelousas with Dennis McGee,
the fine Cajun violinist from Eunice. The tiny black accordionist
went on to record for Brunswick, Vocalion, Decca, Melotone,
and Bluebird, making such pure Cajun discs as "La Valse
De Gueydan" (Brunswick), "Les Blues De La Prison"
(Decca), "La Valse de Amities," "Les Blues de
Voyages," and "Oberlin" (Bluebird).
he made some thirty recordings, fourteen of which have been
collated on a stunning Old Timey album, many of the songs are
anguished laments to a woman named Jouline.
On his recordings
Ardoin was often accompanied by Dennis McGee; in a way two
men were depicting the synthesis of the ancient Cajun and
Creole styles. Between
1928 and 1930 McGee also cut some beautiful vocal and instrumental
tunes in New Orleans with either Sady Courville or Ernest
Fruge playing bass lines on "second fiddle
According to McGee, Amadie Ardoin
was born around the turn of teh century in l'Anse Rougeau, a
tiny farming community between Euice and Mamou. He was seventh
of seven sons. Ardoin
and McGee met as sharecroppers on Oscar Comeaux's farm near
Chataigner, and in 1921 their boss encouraged them to play together
for house dances in the neighborhood.
When Comeaux sold his
farm, Amadie and Dennis moved to Celestin Marcantel's farm near
Eunice and began to develop their musical partnership. Apparently
Ardoin was not much of a worker in the fields, but his new boss
considered his music an asset. Several nights a week after the
day's work, Marcantel would hitch up the horse and buggy and
transport Ardoin and McGee to dances in the country.
After playing half the night for white
dances, Amadie would return to the black community, sometimes
alone, to sit in on dances that usually lasted until dawn. Canray Fontenot told fellow fiddler Michael Doucet: "Then
Amadie would really get hot. After playing for the white folks-
you know, two-steps and waltzes- he would get down on some blues
and just sing and sing.
he made up all those words and most
of the songs he played, they didn't come from anybody else.
he and my father Adam Fontenot would both play the old French
songs, old African songs and hollers, and then make up something
new, just their own."
may have transcended racial barriers, but times were not easy
for a black musician. Once
he suffered a severe beating at a Eunice outdoor fair. Eventually he succumbed to alcoholism, and in the late thirties
he was committed to the Louisiana State Institution for the
Mentally Ill in Pineville, where he died.
In June 1980 Amadie
was justly honored, with Joseph Falcon, at the Second Acadiana
Day at the Acadian Village in Lafayette. The crowds paid homage
to the two musical heroes while enjoying the boudin-eating
and pirogue-rowing contests, traditional Indian dances by
children's groups, and, of course, the Cajun and zydeco music.
had a mighty influence on many Cajun and zydeco artists, particulary
Iry LeJune, Austin Pitre, and Clifton Chenier. A cousin, Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin, is carrying
on Amadie's tradition as leader of the popular Ardoin Family
Band. Their traditional musique Creole, more Cajun the zydeco,
has been recorded by several folk labels.
Bois sec recalled
Amadie's impact on his career for writer Robert Sacre: "Little
by little. I learned the different dances and practiced every
day on my accordian. I continued practicing until I was good
enough, but there is an enormous difference between playing
for pleasure and at a ball. Then I followed my cousin Amadie,
who traveled a lot.
He Was a professional musician and did
not do any other work. I did not see him very often until
we began to the balls together, I played all the balls he
played in the neighborhood- bals de maison as they are called. One day it was one house, another day another, be it a wedding,
birth, anniversary, or simply a Saturday night dance, le fais-dodo.
Mamou, Basile, Lawtell, Eunice.... With him I learned to play
really well. But that did not last long because my mother
did not wish me to become a professional musician, and did
not approve of these trips. Then Amadie became ill and he
played less and less."
"Bois Sec" Ardoin
father, Adam Fontenot, was a highly influential early black
accordionist who was rated the equal of Amadie Ardoin as a musician
but had a weak voice. Adam's
second cousin, old-time accordionist Fremont Fontenot, is another
member of the small, proud caucus of French-speaking black musicians
from the Basile area. The Carriere Brothers, Bebe and Eraste,
from nearby Lawtell also important practitioners of the early,
primitive zydeco sound.
"South to Louisiana"
By John Broven
"Bois Sec" Ardoin
Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin was born November 16, 1915, in l'Anse de 'Prien Noir (Black Cyprian's Cove) near Bayou Duralde, Louisiana. Duralde is an unincorporated village between the towns of Mamou and Basile on the southwestern prairies of Louisiana. Within Duralde are a number of anses (coves) or small settlements. Family history tells that Ardoin's great-great-grandfather Cyprian settled in the area in the 1830s. The family has lived in the village since then.
For many years, the Ardoin family sharecropped fields, raising rice or soybeans or using the land for grazing, depending on the year and the season. Ardoin's nickname, "Bois Sec" (dry wood), was given to him as a child because, he said, he was always the first to the barn when a rainstorm interrupted work in the fields.
When Ardoin was about two years old, his father died. His mother took a job doing laundry for a white family to earn money. Ardoin's older brother hired himself out to help support the family. When Bois Sec was about seven, he started to take his older brother's accordion and hide in the barn to practice.
The young Ardoin didn't realize that his sound carried, and one day he got caught. "I didn't know that when you're high up, you can see far, but the sound carries far as well," he recalled. But his brother was impressed and, instead of getting angry, gave him permission to keep using his accordion.
As a young man, Bois Sec often joined his first cousin, Amédé Ardoin, at dance parties, where he played accordion. Amédé was well known in the area and was the first French-speaking black musician to make 78 rpm recordings in the 1930s. Bois Sec played the triangle for Amédé and watched him play the accordion.
Eventually, Bois Sec was able to buy his own instrument. "I bought one from one of my cousins," he said. "I paid three dollars for it. Boy, I was really proud of my accordion. I had gotten a job paying 50 cents. When I finished my work, I had three dollars. I had a little cinnamon-colored swayback horse. I rode it about 10 miles down the road to buy that first accordion."
The music Ardoin played is often called zydeco, and it blends Cajun, African American, and French Afro-Caribbean sounds and rhythms with fast tempos, frequent syncopation, and blues tonalities. The button accordion, the violin, and the frottoir (rub-board) were central instruments in early bands such as those of the Ardoin family.
In 1948 Ardoin and violinist Canray Fontenot began playing together as the Duralde Ramblers at house dances. They played together for more than 40 years and sometimes added other musicians. In 1966 they were invited to perform at the Newport Folk Festival. "At first, frankly, we felt downright funny about the whole thing," Ardoin said. "We felt far from home.
We played all right, but it wasn't like playing at home for our folks. There were so many, to start with, a whole crowd of people watching us. When you see thousands of people watching you for the first time, and you are there, facing them with only an accordion and a little old fiddle, that's not an easy thing. When they told us that it was our turn, we had to brace ourselves.
We both had shivers as we went up on stage. And then we started getting along with the people and they were applauding our music. It's like our fears melted away."
Ardoin's brother Delphin, known as "Phin-Nonc," was an accomplished accordion player, but performed publicly only on Mardi Gras. Three of Ardoin's sons played accordion at various times in the family band. Gustave "Bud" Ardoin played with the band until his death in an auto accident in 1974. Ardoin's oldest son, Morris, filled in after Bud's death.
Morris plays the piano accordion and the smaller button accordion. He played with the band for a while before leaving it to run Club Morris, the family dance hall and bar near Bois Sec's home. The club is the focal point of social life for the entire Duralde Creole community.
It is there that the family band, which usually included Canray Fontenot, played for dances every two weeks. Ardoin's youngest son, Russell, plays bass for the family band.
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