Around the Press in 80 Books: Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, designer Barbara Neely Bourgoyne writes about Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana: The 1934 Lomax Recordings.

My friend Joseph said to me that Louisiana’s French culture is a mosaic like no other. He speaks fluent French beautifully. He is also a passionate advocate for preserving Louisiana’s history, culture, and language for future generations. Ask him anything on this subject and he will present a well-informed, impassioned answer. Without him, I’m not sure I would fully realize what a treasure we have in this book.

The French language in Louisiana has not always been cherished—quite the opposite actually. So it astounds me that in 1934, during the height of the Great Depression, John Lomax and his son Alan travelled around the Acadiana parishes with a 300–pound aluminum disk recorder collecting whatever traditional music they could find. The music they captured is typically described as Cajun or Creole, but what they actually found is a diverse amalgam of old medieval lays, Continental pop songs, blues ballads, round-dance songs, traditional ballads in French, a Scottish jig, and much more.

Luckily, a copy of those recordings was obtained by the Cajun and Creole Folklore Archives at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. That’s where Joshua Caffery came across this collection as a graduate student. He meticulously studied, transcribed, and translated every song, every snippet. Everything was treated with equal importance, and you can find them all in Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana.

Alan Lomax believed that certain areas of the country had unique cultural resources that should be conserved for future generations,” Caffery has said. “I plan to continue that vision.” It’s a good vision.

Thank you, Joseph, for helping me see it.

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