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Music of Louisiana

 This article is a supplemental part of the 
Music of the United States series.
 before 1940
 1940s and 50s
 1960s and 70s
 1980 to the present'''
 African-American music
 Native American music
 Latin, Tejano, Hawaiian,
Cajun, Puerto Rican and other immigrants
The music of Louisiana, like other cultural aspects of the state, can be divided in to three general regions. The south-west of the state is dominated by Cajun culture. The northern half of the state shares the most similarities with the rest of the US South. To the south east, the area in and around New Orleans and Baton Rouge has its own unique musical heritage.

Table of contents
1 Southwestern Louisiana
2 Music of Northern Louisiana
3 New Orleans Music
4 Reference
5 External Links

Southwestern Louisiana

Southwest Louisiana's main musical genres - Zydeco, Swamp Pop, and Cajun/Creole, are musical heritages rich with personalities and reverence for tradition. This area has many artists and songs that have become international hits, won Grammy awards, and become highly sought after by collectors. The lyrics and rhythms of the songs themselves remind the listener of the past, and the institutions developed and abandoned along the way.

Telling the difference:

Cajun tends to sound more like early country, with the use of steel guitar, fiddle, the triangle, and acoustic guitar. One of the most influential Cajun singers is DL Menard, who has been called the Cajun Hank Williams. Cajun music is typically a waltz or two step.
Creole is very similar to Cajun in substance and lyrics, but the rhythms tend to be more pronounced, and vocals are more blues influenced.
Zydeco sounds more like gospel or R&B, with artists adopting a James Brown kind of persona, and instrumentation involving more electrical instruments (guitar and bass), keyboards, the washboard, and horns, and are well suited to the jitterbug.
Swamp Pop is more of a combination of many influences, and the bridge between Zydeco, New Orleans second line, and rock and roll. The song structure is pure rock and roll, the rhythms are distinctly New Orleans based, the chord changes, vocals and inflections are R&B influenced, and the lyrics are sometimes French.


Creole and Cajun music draw from similar influences of French, German, Native American, and Spanish music, with the Creole adding the rhythm and accompaniment of the Caribbean and Africa. Creole and Cajun developed together and drew from each other, blurring the lines. The most common differentiation between the two is that, in the early days, Cajun was performed by whites, and Creole was performed by African Americans. By the 1960s, the two forms had combined so much as to be nearly indistinguishable from each other. The term Creole, as it applies to music, is nearly extinct, as younger generations tend more toward zydeco.

In southwestern Louisiana in the 1800s, the fiddle was the most popular Cajun instrument, though German immigrants spreading outward from central and eastern Texas and New Orleans soon brought the accordion as well. African American farmhands at the time sang a rhythmic type of work song called juré, which mixed with Cajun folk music to form la la, a central component of Creole music. La la was primarily rural, played at parties also known as la las, and found in towns in the prairie regions like Mamou, Eunice and Opelousas.

In 1901 (see 1901 in music), oil was discovered at Jennings and immigration boomed. Many of the newcomers were white businessmen from outside of Louisiana who attempted to force the Cajuns and other minorities to adopt the dominant American cultural forms, even outlawing the use of the French language in 1916. Despite the law, many Cajuns still spoke French at home, and musical performances were in French. Even today, some of the current older generation is more comfortable speaking French, though they are bilingual.

Commercial recording of Cajun music began in 1928 (see 1928 in music). These early songs were mixtures of la la, contredanses, reels and jigs and other folk influences from black, white and Native American traditions. In the late 1930s and 1940s, country music became the dominant influence on Cajun music, and bass and steel guitars were used. Modern Cajun music has begun taking on the influence of jazz and modern country music, resulting in a more polished sound.

A performance by Dewey Balfa, Gladius Thibodeaux, and Vinesse LeJeune at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival was one major reason behind a "revival' of interest in traditional Cajun music in the mid 1960s. In 1968, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana or CODIFIL was founded. In 1974, CODIFIL started an annual festival that came to be known as Festival Acadiens. It is still held in Lafayette.

A new respect for Cajun culture developed in the 1990s. Children like young phenom Hunter Hayes got into the music again, inspiring everyone. The most well known Cajun band outside of Louisiana is probably grammy winners Beausoleil, who have joined many country artists in the studio, and served as an inspiration to the Mary Chapin Carpenter hit, Down At the Twist and Shout.
Recommended Listening: Cajun
D.L. Menard - The Back Door
Belton Richard - Un Autre Soir D'ennui
Jimmy C. Newman - Lache Pas La Patate
Iry LeJune - Evangeline Special
Wayne Toups - Johnny Can't Dance
The Savoy Family Band - Savoy Family Album

Creole musicians were inspired by the blues and jazz to update la la with wild R&B rhythms, thus forming zydeco.


Zydeco's rural beginnings and the prevailing economic conditions at its inception are reflected in the song titles, lyrics, and bluesy vocals. Zydeco's most visible feature is the vest frottoir, also known as the rubboard or washboard. Originating in Africa, the vest frottoir was re-introduced to Louisiana in the 1930s. In 1954, Boozoo Chavis recorded "Paper in My Shoe". This is considered to be the first modern zydeco recording, though the term "zydeco" was not in use yet (see 1954 in music). After Chavis left the music business, Clifton Chenier became the first major zydeco star and also led to the invention of the word zydeco in 1965. One of his hits was "Les Haricots Sont Pas Salés" (The Snap Beans Aren't Salty) and les haricots (snap peas) was corrupted to zydeco.

In the mid-1980s, Rockin' Sidney briefly re-popularized zydeco music nationwide with hit remake of the classic tune "My Toot Toot". This led to the resurgence of Zydeco artists, and spawned a new crop of innovators. Chris Ardoin, Beau Jocques, and Zydeco Force added a new twist to traditional Zydeco by tying the whole sound to the bass drum rhythm to accentuate or syncopate the backbeat even more. This style is sometimes called "double clutching".
Recommended Listening: Zydeco
Beau Jocque - Cornbread
Chris Ardoin and Double Clutchin'-Lake Charles Connection
Clifton Chenier - Hot Tamale Baby
Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas - Steady Rock

Swamp Pop

Swamp Pop's heyday lasted from the late 1950s through the early 1980s and includes national hits, re-recorded for Louisiana sensibilities, by local artists, on local labels. Although, some original swamp pop songs have caught on with a national audience, such as I'm Leaving It Up To You by Dale & Grace, and All These Things by The Uniques. The influence of Swamp Pop can be traced up to Born On The Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival, New Orleans Ladies by LeRoux, and the songs of Fats Domino and Percy Sledge.
Recommended Listening: Swamp Pop
Rufus Jagneaux - Opelousas Sostan
Rod Bernard - This Should Go On Forever
Charles Mann - Red Red Wine
Tommy McLain - Sweet Dreams
Warren Storm - Graduation Night


Small, local record labels proliferated from Houston, Texas to New Orleans, specializing in recording and distributing local acts. Labels such as Jin, Swallow, Maison De Soul, and Bayou continue to record and distribute Cajun, Zydeco, Creole, and other south Louisiana music. Many of the original versions of classic songs are still being made and distributed.

One of the most successful label owners was Floyd Soileau. Soileau started as a local DJ in Ville Platte, Louisiana in the mid 1950s, and soon decided he would rather help make music than play it. He started most of the labels listed in the previous paragraph. He and his record shop are important pieces of Louisiana's music history.

Some of the earliest recordings of Cajun music that exist were done the 1920s by noted historian Alan Lomax of farmhands in Louisiana.

Music of Northern Louisiana

The region's location, bordered by Texas on the west and the Mississippi Delta on the east has not led to a development of a "local" music. Traditional and modern country music has been dominant, creating its own country stars, like Jimmie Davis, Trace Adkins, and Andy Griggs.

However, northern Louisiana's lasting contribution to the world of popular music was the radio program "The Louisiana Hayride", which started broadcasting in 1948 on KWKH in Shreveport. Hank Williams, George Jones, Elvis Presley and nearly every other country legend, or future country legend alive during the 1950s stepped on stage at the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium. They performed, many for the first time on radio, on a signal that covered much of the southeastern US. The original production of the show ended in 1960, but re-runs and the occasional special broadcast continued for a few years. The Louisiana Hayride was regarded as a stepping stone to The Grand Ole Opry, the legendary radio show from WSM in Nashville, Tennessee.

Northern Louisiana in the 1950s had a "Country Rock" scene, many of whose artists were recorded by local Ram Records. Later, Shreveport produced The Residents.

New Orleans Music

In the 19th century already a mixture of French and Spanish music, African and Afro-Caribbean. The city had a great love for Opera; many operatic works had their first performances in the New World in New Orleans.

Unlike in the Protestant colonies of what would become the USA, African slaves and their descendants were not prohibited from performing their traditional music in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. Large numbers of slaves were allowed to gather on Sundays, their day off, on a plaza known as Congo Square where they performed traditional music, song, and dances as late as the 1830s. The Congo Square gatherings became well known, and many whites came to watch and listen.

Louis Gottschalk was an early 19th century White Creole pianist and composer from New Orleans, the first American musician/composer to become famous in Europe. A number of his works incorporate rhythms and music he heard performed by African slaves.

In addition to the slave population, antebellum New Orleans also had a large population of "Free people of Color", mostly Creoles of mixed African and European heritage who worked as tradesmen. The more prosperous "Creoles of Color" sent their children to be educated in France. They had their own dance bands, an opera company, and a symphony orchestra. The community produced such composers as Edmund Dede and Basil Bares. After the American Civil War many Creole of Color musicians became music teachers, teaching the use of European instruments to the newly freed slaves and their descendants.

"Dixe" was published here. New Orleans was a regional Tin Pan Alley music composing and publishing center through the 1920s, and also an important center of ragtime.

Probably the single most famous style of music to originate in the city was New Orleans jazz. It came in to being right around 1900. Many with memories of the time say that the most important figure in the formation of the music was Buddy Bolden. Early rural blues, ragtime, and marching band music were combined with collective improvisation to create this new style of music. At first the music was known by various names such as "hot music" "hot ragtime" and "ratty music"; the term "jazz" (early on often spelled "jass") did not become common until the 1910s. The early style was exemplified by the bands of such musicians as Freddie Keppard, "King" Joe Oliver, Kid Ory, and Papa Jack Laine (see also: Dixieland). The next generation took the young art form into more daring and sophisticated directions, with such creative musical virtuosos as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, and Red Allen.

New Orleans blues - New Orleans was the first place where the early rural folk style of the blues became popular in an urban setting. Buddy Bolden was said to be the first to have the blues played by a a band and for dancing. Rabbit Brown was one of the oldest earliest blues musicians to be recorded. New Orleans blues singers like Papa Charlie Jackson and New Orleans Willie Jackson were noted for their rhythmic style; people were said to be able to dance to them singing unaccompanied.

Louis Prima demonstrated the versatility of the New Orleans tradition, taking a style rooted in traditional New Orleans jazz into swinging hot music popular into the rock and roll era.

The city also has a rich tradition of Gospel music and spirituals; Mahalia Jackson was the most famous of the Crescent City gospel singers.

In the 1950s New Orleans again influenced the national music scene as a center in the development of Rhythm & Blues. Important artists included Fats Domino Snooks Eaglin Dave Bartholomew, Professor Longhair.

The Neville Brothers

1980s new style of "street beat" brass bands combining the jazz brass band tradition with funk and hip hop, spearheaded by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (which had more of a bebop influence than many of the later bands), then the Rebirth Brass Band.

Contemporary jazz has had a following in New Orleans with musicians such as Alvin Batiste and Ellis Marsalis. Some younger jazz virtuosos such as Wynton Marsalis and Nicholas Payton experiment with the avant garde while refusing to disregard the traditions of early jazz.

Continuing development of the traditional New Orleans jazz style, Tom McDermott, Evan Christopher, New Orleans Nightcrawlers Louisiana blues is a specialized form of blues music sometimes using zydeco instrumentation that uses slow, tense rhythms and is closely related to New Orleans blues and swamp blues from Baton Rouge.

Significant New Orleans rock & roll bands include The Meters, The Radiators, Galactic, Better Than Ezra, and Cowboy Mouth.

Hardcore punk in New Orleans was limited in popularity, led by The Normals, Red Rockers and The Sluts. The rest of Louisiana, Shreveport and Baton Rouge, for example, saw limited punk rock action due to local hostility.


External Links