International ambassadors for Cajun music announce an end to touring.
News has leaked out from Southern Louisiana that one of the region’s premier Cajun bands, BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet, have announced their retirement from touring and their current nationwide tour of the U.S will be their last. Talking to Louisiana newspaper, ‘The Advocate’, Michael Doucet has said that, after almost 50 years of near constant life on the road, and following the downturn brought about by the Covid pandemic, the band has decided to call it a day for large-scale touring. They’ll continue to play one-off concerts and may also record from time to time, but their days of extensive touring will come to an end when they complete their current U.S tour.
This will be sad news for the band’s international fans since, for many outside the U.S, BeauSoleil may well be the first Cajun band they saw live. In fact, even within the U.S, the band may have been the introduction for many to the music of Southern Louisiana. BeauSoleil started out in 1975 and released their first album, a French only release, “La Nuit”, a year later, with their first international album, “The Spirit of Cajun Music”, a year after that (1977). Since then the band has gone on to release some thirty albums, including compilations and live releases. They have received eleven Grammy Nominations and won two Grammy Awards. More significantly, they’re the only Cajun band that has played in every state in the U.S and they have played in 19 countries overseas, including countries such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen! When they started out, the band had the stated aim to “Cajunise” their home country and introduce Cajun music, and the culture that accompanies it, throughout the U.S.
Dedicated to touring and playing live they have taken their music around the world many times, and have been one of the greatest ambassadors for Cajun music in modern times. Michael Doucet himself started out on the banjo, back in 1957, when he was just six years old, at age eight he added guitar and then accordion and mandolin. In his early twenties, Doucet went to France, where he was impressed by the sound of violin in the gypsy jazz he heard. Returning home he added the fiddle to his repertoire of instruments and it quickly became his primary focus. Through his work both individually and with the band, Doucet is now considered the foremost player of Cajun fiddle styles, having studied some of the most important fiddle players in the genre, including Dewey Balfa, Varise Conner, and Canray Fontenot, among others.
BeauSoleil is not a traditional style Cajun band, including a wide range of Southern folk styles along with Jazz, blues, and tex-mex influences in their music, but good Cajun music has long drawn on wider influences and their repertoire always ensured that there was plenty of traditional music mixed in with more contemporary sounds to keep the most dedicated Cajun traditionalist happy. It’s this flexibility as a band that has kept them in demand for over four decades and enabled them to spread their music so widely. It made them the first Cajun band able to make a living from being on the road and has brought them a whole range of awards. In addition to the awards, the band was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2011 and, in 2017, they were interviewed so that the band’s oral history could be preserved at the American Folklife Center. They’ve played on a number of film soundtracks, most notably “The Big Easy”, and have appeared on countless TV and Radio shows. Garrison Keillor, on his “Prairie Home Companion” show, referred to them as “the best Cajun band in the world”. All this and, way back in 1991, the then hottest new act in americana, Mary Chapin Carpenter, featured the band on her recording, and in the video, of her single release, ‘Down at the Twist & Shout’. The band has become, for many, the embodiment of Cajun music over the years.
Nowadays there are a number of Cajun and Zydeco bands out on the touring circuit and it’s much easier for us international fans of this great music to see and hear genuine Cajun musicians – but it’s not too much of a stretch to say none of this could’ve happened without BeauSoleil and their determination to spread their music throughout their own country and beyond. They were the pioneers that brought the music to audiences outside Louisiana and encouraged other Cajun musicians to do the same, so it’s hard to think we may not see the band again. The music will go on and BeauSoleil will still be one of the bands playing it but, after nearly fifty years of touring, it’s understandable that they might want to call it a day. We certainly haven’t heard the last of them but it seems that, for many of us, we may have seen the last of them, at least on a live stage. Thanks for the memories to one of the great Cajun bands.
Laissez les bons temps rouler.
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