Habitués of ‘Cajun Corner’ may well be familiar with accordionist Ida Lewis Guillory, or ‘Queen Ida’ as she is better known. Ida Lewis was born in 1929 at Lake Charles, Louisiana. When she was ten her family moved just across the state line to Beaumont, Texas. Eight years later they went west to San Francisco. Her home ever since, regular music did not come until some time later. Married to Ray Guillory and raising a family while working as a bus driver left little time for much else. But music remained, even indirectly, as she cooked traditional Louisiana dishes for her brother’s zydeco band. Al Lewis, better known by his stage name, Al Rapone, rekindled his sister Ida’s interest in music and by the early 1970s she was playing in the Barbary Coast Band before forming her own Bon Temps Band. As well as her musical talent, Ida quickly gained popularity because she was the first woman to lead a zydeco band. The title came when she was crowned ‘Queen of the Zydeco Accordion and Queen of Zydeco’ at a Bay Area Mardi Gras celebration in 1975. That same year she played the San Francisco Blues Festival then a year later its Monterrey equivalent.
The creole accordion style she first learned formed the foundation of her music while other strains such as blues, r&b and even caribbean also emerge. Unlike piano or button accordions with their eleven keys (as played by Clifton Chenier and others), Queen Ida’s has 31 keys. The Mexican sound comes from her greater use of the treble. A fiddle was also unusual for a zydeco band, being more typically cajun. This wider range accounts for her more melodic style and explains why she describes her sound as ‘Bayou Country Music’.
This clip features Queen Ida on a cult late 1970s TV show compered by Girl George, a leading light in the San Francisco creative scene. As she says in her intro, “this the type of music is when we go out on weekends and have a real, real, good time”. On this song, ‘Grand Mamou’, Queen Ida and the Bon Temps Band leave the Bay for the bayou as they revisit old haunts.
Releasing albums studio and live, writing a cookbook and touring all over the world lead to her National Heritage Fellowship award in 2009, the US government’s highest honour in the folk and traditional arts.
“Sometimes I feel like a teacher or a missionary, but I believe it’s never too late to expand your human potential.”