Before there was zydeco music, early French-speaking musicians in Southwest Louisiana were creating Creole music. And one of the earliest recording artists was accordion player Amede Ardoin, whose life on the Creole music trail went from stardom to tragedy.
Today’s popular zydeco music was born on the prairies of Southwest Louisiana. It evolved from music that was first performed and recorded by Creoles like Ardoin.
“He was kind of like a rock star of his own day and time,” said Darrell Bourque.
“The most repeated a line in his songs, other than wanting a girl to pay attention to him, uh, is this thing about not having a home, you know, being, being exiled,” Bourque said.
Ardoin was a virtuoso on the accordion, and he wrote and recorded a series of songs from 1929 to 1934. But less than a decade later, Ardoin’s life took a tragic turn.
“He was playing at a dance and he asked someone to give him a rag to wipe his face and a white woman without hesitation, opened her purse and handed him a handkerchief. There were two white, racist men there who said, who declared that on a day he would never perform again. Uh, and they followed him home that night, beat him, and the story goes that they rolled over his head and neck with a model Ford, and thought they had killed him,” Bourque said.
Suffering from brain injuries, Ardoin was institutionalized at the Central Louisiana State Hospital in Pineville, where he died a few months later. His remains are among more than 2,000 patients who were buried on this hillside. There are no names, only a few numbered markers.
“The whole idea of a genius ending up unclaimed, alone, solitary, not being able to be in connection with anything that defined his life to a large extent is very touching," Bourque said.
A statue of Amede Ardoin stands at the St. Landry Parish visitors center off I-49 near Opelousas. It’s an effort to reconnect Ardoin with the communities and the people who are part of his music.
In bourque’s book of poetry, he uses lyrics from ardoin’s songs to show the musician’s lonliness.
"Maybe that last line, (french), which is from the prisoners’ waltz, I think probably there’s no prison as so complete as the idea of alienation, the idea of aloneness," Bourque said.
The influences of Amede Ardoin can be heard in today’s zydeco and Cajun music. And with this bronze statue, a lonely, wandering musical genius has finally moved back home.