Carolyn Russell

(-July 21, 2019)

Carolyn RussellCarolyn Russell died of a stroke at her Apple Valley home on July 21, 2019.

The bio for Carolyn Russell is very sketchy. She was a Board member of the California Dance Cooperative, and through that organization ran a Cajun Dance at the Culver City Masonic Temple.

Per the L.A. Times article of October 3, 1986 she was at that time a member of  Louisiana Cajun Trio.

“The Louisiana Cajun Trio was formed two years ago in Los Angeles by a pair of expatriate Cajuns and Russell, a folk guitarist from North Dakota. The trio was recently featured at the Mount Baldy Folk Festival, and when they’re not on the road, they hold monthly Cajun music workshops in Culver City under the auspices of the California Dance Cooperative.” One of the mainstays of that dance were accordionist Wilfred Latour and fiddler Edgar Le Day.

In another Los Angeles Times on January 15, 1989, the Culver City Cajun Dance was still going on.

In 1991 (Los Angeles Times July 12, 1991) Wilfred Latour and his Zydeco Goodtime Aces played at Anaheim Cultural Arts Center. This may have been at the beginning of The Living Tradition organization that Carolyn started. They ran (and still run) contradances and concerts.

According to Jack Phillips, Carolyn started Occasional String Band to play for contradances in Orange County. Ira Gwinn, Carty Wilson, Hugh Nesbit and Jack Phillips were part of this unofficial band. (They also set up the sound, cleaned the hall, collected the pittance admission and packed up the (old-fashioned, big and heavy) speakers, amps and stands in Carolyn’s van - just so, or they wouldn’t fit.) She also had a house concert and contradances at her big house in Garden Grove for many years (featuring such as Alasdair Fraser, Mary McCaslin, Bryan Bowers and many more.)

She moved to Lucerne Valley about 20 years ago. She continued the concerts at Lucerne Valley up until a few years ago, drawing national talent and fans from L.A. as well as desert folks.

She had a brilliant and a sly wit, and will remain the epitome of the term "grass roots community", and to speak of her as a "true renaissance woman" is and always will be an understatement..

References:

Carolyn and Steve Goldfield wrote a feature story about fiddler Mel Durham

http://www.oldtimeherald.org/archive/back_issues/volume-5/5-8/mel.html

There were six articles in the Los Angeles Times that referred to her involvement in Cajun music:

Los Angeles Times October 3, 1986

Cajun Music To Spice Up County Clubs

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Santa Ana Orange County Register (Newspaper) - May 22, 1987, Santa Ana,

California Cajun culture is cookin' Festival caters to taste for spicy, celebrative music

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Los Angeles Times January 15, 1989

A Taste of Southern Comfort : Once a month, Cajun fans gather in Culver City for good times, Gumbo and plenty of toe-tapping music

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Los Angeles Times July 12, 1991

The World Accordion to Latour : Cajun: The musician was raised on the original Louisiana sound and, at 69, still performs it with peppery passion. He will play Saturday night in Anaheim.

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Los Angeles Times March 15, 1993

New Hot Spot Welcomes Cajun Band

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Los Angeles Times January 24, 1994

AN APPRECIATION : Wilfred Latour: His Music Really Was a Gift : With his death, we have lost one of the last living links to the pioneering players who created the Cajun sound as we know it.

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Los Angeles Times October. 3, 1986

Cajun Music To Spice Up Country Clubs

By Thomas K. Arnold

SAN DIEGO

When Cajun food started showing up on San Diego restaurant menus about a year ago, it was big news in culinary circles.

The arrival here of Cajun music promises to have the same effect on the pop music scene. The simple, emotional folk music of French Louisianians, both white and black, will be introduced to San Diego audiences Sunday night at two North County nightclubs.

The Louisiana Cajun Trio will perform traditional Cajun waltzes, two-steps and one-steps from the 1800s at the Old Time Cafe in Leucadia.

That same night, Queen Ida and her band will play “zydeco” music, a 20th-Century hybrid of white Cajun and black Louisiana blues, at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.

Like Cajun food, both variations of Cajun music use simple ingredients to produce a hot, spicy taste. Cajun food hits you in the stomach; Cajun music hits you in the heart.

“It’s all dance music--very simple and unornamented, but very emotional and vigorous,” said Carolyn Russell, the 53-year-old guitarist with the Louisiana Cajun Trio.

“It can make you laugh one minute and cry the next. And, like Cajun food, it’s catching on all over the world.”

It sure is. Cajun bands, wielding accordions and fiddles, have invaded folk and jazz festivals throughout the United States and Europe. National folk magazines like Sing Out! are carrying articles about Cajun music.

Even the pop music mainstream has begun embracing the time-honored Cajun sound. Doug Kershaw has built a name for himself in Nashville as “the Cajun fiddler.” And a few years ago, veteran rock ‘n’ roller Gary U.S. Bonds included an old Cajun tune, “Jole Blon,” on his much-heralded comeback album--which was produced by Bruce Springsteen.

“I think the simplicity of Cajun music has a lot to do with it,” Russell said. “Pop music has become jaded. Even the singer-songwriters who came out of the folk music era of the early 1960s have grown pretty sophisticated over the years, with seven or eight chord changes in a single song.

“But at the same time that pop music is gaining in sophistication and intellectual interest, it’s losing some of the heart, some of the basic emotion.

“Cajun music is bringing back some of that heart. The main instrument is the accordion, and the limitations of the accordion--you can only play two chords--keep the music simple.

“As a result, Cajun music is reintroducing people to emotional music, because there’s nothing to cover up the heart, the feeling.”

Both traditional white Cajun music and its black zydeco offshoot are rooted in the French folk songs brought to North America by the French Arcadians, who settled in what is now Nova Scotia in the early 1600s.

By the middle 1700s, the area had fallen under British rule, and over the next three decades the French were gradually driven out, Russell said.

Many migrated south to Louisiana, at the time a Spanish colony and one of the few territories in North America where the displaced French were allowed to practice their Catholic faith.

“They came with nothing, not even instruments,” Russell said. “All they had were memories of the basic structure of tunes, and as their culture began to grow, they were forced to rely on what was available.”

From the sympathetic German immigrants nearby came the accordion, Russell said. From the blacks on the Southern plantations came the simple dance rhythms that characterize both variations of Cajun music to this day.

As the years went by, Russell added, Cajun music began to be recognized as a distinct form of music in its own right. Complementing the accordion in the instrumental lineup of Cajun bands were the fiddle, the triangle and, later, the guitar. The music itself, however, remained simple, with a structure confined to waltzes, two-steps and one-steps.

After the Civil War, Russell said, more and more Cajuns began to interbreed with the newly freed blacks. Their mulatto offspring, known as Creoles, began to add blues, jazz and calypso elements to traditional Cajun music.

They also began experimenting with other instruments like the bass guitar, the drums and the “button” accordion, capable of producing a wider range of sounds than the basic accordion.

By the 1930s, Russell said, the more soulful Cajun music played by the black French Louisianians was given its own name: zydeco, named after a popular Cajun dance tune of the time.

According to Sing Out! magazine, the zydeco music of today differs from traditional Cajun music in that it has faster tempos, more syncopated rhythms, and even simpler melodies.

While groups like the Louisiana Cajun Trio are keeping alive the traditional Cajun sound through concert appearances all over the world, artists like Queen Ida are doing the same for zydeco.

The Louisiana Cajun Trio was formed two years ago in Los Angeles by a pair of expatriate Cajuns and Russell, a folk guitarist from North Dakota. The trio was recently featured at the Mount Baldy Folk Festival, and when they’re not on the road, they hold monthly Cajun music workshops in Culver City under the auspices of the California Dance Cooperative.

Queen Ida, a flamboyant accordionist who appears on stage in a sequined gown and feathered headdress, has recorded six albums for the GNP Crescendo label with her backup band, the Bon Temps Zydeco Band. In 1982, she won a Grammy Award for best ethnic/traditional folk album.

“Like I said earlier, both forms of music are enjoying new levels of popularity all over the world,” Russell said. “And that tells you that no matter how much music changes, people still like to dance and be happy.”

A Taste of Southern Comfort : Once a month, Cajun fans gather in Culver City for good times, Gumbo and plenty of toe-tapping music

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Santa Ana Orange County Register (Newspaper) - May 22, 1987, Santa Ana,

California Cajun culture is cookin' Festival caters to taste for spicy, celebrative music

By Jim Washburn

The Register

Exchanging floppy disks and trade secrets is fine, but when you really want to get a handle on a culture there's nothing like hunkering down with its food and music. And so often it seems those two go hand in hand in a culture. In discussing the products of Louisiana's Acadian regions — its spicy and refined Cajun cuisine and unique, celebrative dance music — it's hard to think of one without the other coming to mind.

That's presuming one is acquainted with both, and in that respect Southern California's taste buds remain far ahead of its ears. Gumbos, jambalayas and blackened everything have hit the coast like the sushi wave of a few years back.

This weekend, concert promoters are counting on that interest in things Cajun to bring listeners to the First annual Cajun and Zydeco Music and Dance Festival at Hollywood's 1,200-seat open-air John Anson Ford Theatre (Cajun is the traditional, principally acoustic, music of French Canadian communities in Louisiana's bayou country. Zydeco is that music amplified and blended with R&B elements).

Promoter Franklin Zawacki — who is working locally with promoters Nancy Covey and Roy Hassett — has produced Cajun festivals in Rhode Island for the last seven years, the most recent attracting 25,000 people.

Zawacki explained his intent behind the fests. "If I could pick up and move a Louisiana dance hall out here, I'd do it. I love dance halls, and they just don't exist like this outside of Louisiana anymore, where little children, grandparents and everyone Grammy award winner Queen Ida will perform Sunday with the Bon Temps Zydeco Band at the John Anson Ford Theatre in Hollywood. in between are dancing together. There's such an energy, it's instantaneous dance music. And I'm trying to share that."

Toward that end the festival will have free Cajun dance lessons, a variety of inexpensive dishes from some of LA's finer Cajun-style restaurants, and will feature some of the best known names in Cajun and Zydeco, including Grammy winner Queen Ida and the internationally renowned Beausoleil. Also booked are some lesser-known, but hardly less important performers. One such is Wilfred Latour, accordionist and leader of the Louisiana Cajun Trio and the Zydeco Goodtime Aces.

Latour resides in LA and Garden Grove's Carolyn Russell — familiar to county folk fans for her eclectic series of house concerts — plays bass and guitar in his bands. But the 64-year-old Latour's roots go deep into Cajun music's history.

The soft-spoken accordionist began playing in the late 1920s in the rural town of Basile, La., when he was 7 years old. "I started so young because my father was a musician, a great violin player in his time, one of the best. My dad was hoping he could make a violin player out of me, but the sound of the accordion got to me."

Latour's first teacher was Amade Ardoin, a legendary figure in Cajun music.

Ardoin was one of the first to incorporate the accordion in Cajun music, which previously had been performed chiefly on fiddle. "He used to set me on his knee and teach me how to hold the accordion," Latour recalled.

"It's not like other forms of music where you can go to school. This is not written music. Children would pick it up on their own just by hearing it. It's not like another place where a kid can say he wants to major in music and do it. Not this music. It's something you've got to love, and find it on your own. Probably all musicians feel this way: The music becomes a part of your life."

Latour began entertaining audiences when he was 12, and there have been few weekends since that he hasn't spent playing for dancing audiences. Initially Latour played in the traditional Cajun style of duos or trios with fiddlers or triangle players. Drums were unknown in the music. All of that changed in the years following World War II, when outside elements melded with Cajun music to form Zydeco, chiefly at the hands of Clifton Chenier (Chenier has been in poor health for several years and rarely performs outside Louisiana). Latour has played both styles for the past couple of decades.

According to Russell, "It's almost impossible to not dance to the Zydeco band. It's big and it's loud. We performed at LA's Museum of Neon Art, which is not exactly a dance setting, and people started off watching, and ended up dancing."

"I was lucky," she said of her affiliation with Latour. She had substituted for a friend on guitar with fiddler Edgar Leday (the trio's third member) when Latour, visiting from Louisiana, sat in one night in 1983. Though Russell claims her inexperience required months of patience from the others, the pair must have liked something they heard as the trio has stuck together since Latour moved to California in 1984.

Latour isn't worried about whether his music will get across to a new audience.

"It never was a problem. I've played music all my life, in many different places where they weren't Cajun or probably couldn't understand a word of French. And whenever we played, they were just as excited or more excited than when they heard rock music they understood. And it seems like people get hold of it faster here than people do back in Louisiana, I guess because back there they grow up with it and are used to it."

Russell and many others have been working as volunteers to pull the festival together, and Zawacki says the performers are working for little more than expenses: "They know that for a first-year festival, it has to be a labor of love to succeed." There seems to be no shortage of love for the music or for sharing it with audiences, if Latour is any example. "When you play any form of music, you're relating a feeling. You have to feel music to know it. That's what gets people excited, makes an audience start moving, stomping or jumping when you play." And Latour can't envison a day when he won't want to play. "This is part of my life. You can't retire from music. You ever heard of a musician retiring?"

PREVIEW

Who: The Cajun-Zydeco Festival, with John Delafose and the Eunice Playboys; Michael Doucet and Beausoliel; and the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band appearing Saturday and Sunday. Also appearing on Saturday is Wilfred Latour and His Zydeco Goodtime Aces; the California Cajun Orchestra; and How's Bayou. Also on Sunday, Queen Ida and the Bon Temps Zydeco Band; the Louisiana Cajun Trio; and Blues du Bayou.

Where: The John Anson Ford Theatre, 3208 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood.

When: Saturday and Sunday at noon.

How much: $15, $20 and $25.

Call: (213) 464-2626.

CRITICS CHOICE

POP

If you've ever heard the Cajun or Zydeco music from Louisiana's Acadian bayou, you need no further inducement to attend the Cajun and Zydeco Festival at Hollywood's John Anson Ford Theatre this Saturday and Sunday (see feature, this page). If you haven't heard it, take my word that it's some of the most infectious, warmly human, dance-happy music extant.

Along with having some of best top names in Cajun and Zydeco music, the open-air fest also offers regional food, dance lessons and a dance floor to practice on. Call (213) 464-2826.

Friday, May 22, 1987 The Orange County Register P39

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Los Angeles Times January 15, 1989

A Taste of Southern Comfort : Once a month, Cajun fans gather in Culver City for good times, Gumbo and plenty of toe-tapping music

By Jim Schmaltz

A man in his 60s plays an accordion and sings in fluent French. In front of him, a tall guy named Stretch leads his equally statuesque partner through a series of dips and twirls, while a stunning brunette dances with an unkempt stranger twice her age. Behind them, a group of people devour large bowls of homemade gumbo. All this in a building next to a Hare Krishna temple.

What is going on here? In the words of rock singer David Byrne, this ain’t no disco.

“This dance is like going home,” says Genni Wallace, a full-blooded Cherokee Indian from North Carolina and one of the regulars. “It’s the elixir of life. Your heart will keep beating after they put you in the ground.”

The object of this homespun hyperbole is the Cajun Dance in Culver City, held at the Culver City Masonic Temple the first Friday of every month. Residents and out-of-towners become gumbo-fueled dervishes to the two-stepping melodies of the Louisiana Cajun Trio, a group that includes two renowned old-time Cajun musicians, accordionist Wilfred Latour and fiddler Edgar Le Day. Now in its fourth year, the Cajun Dance transforms this small Westside dance hall into Southwest Louisiana, giving L.A. residents a rare opportunity to go beyond blackened seafood and experience authentic backwoods Louisiana culture.

“The unique thing about this dance is the special tension in the music,” says Carolyn Russell, 54, the organizer of the dance and the third member of the Trio. “It has a special dissonance that appeals to people. It’s raw.”

Russell became active on the local dance scene after becoming involved with the California Dance Cooperative, a nonprofit organization that oversees the Cajun Dance and several English country-style dances (known as contra) in the Los Angeles area.

Like all the Co-op affairs, the Cajun Dance provides free dance instruction, doesn’t serve alcohol and costs $4. Though the English dances are more frequent and more popular, Russell says, the Cajun Dance draws an average of 60 to 80 people--and the number is growing. Those who attend seem to have an enduring passion for it.

One of the more dedicated dance regulars is Lisa Richardson, 26, a major in ethnic music at UCLA. Last year, Richardson saw a flyer for the dance and took a bus from campus to the Masonic Temple. The result was an obsession not only for the music, but for the entire Cajun culture.

“It was something totally different,” recalls Richardson. “I ended up going to Southwest Louisiana for the summer.” There she studied the music and the culture, and fell in love with a Cajun. Since her return to Westwood, she says, she has never missed a dance.

The Louisiana Cajun Trio formed 3 years ago after guitarist Russell met Le Day and Latour. They grew up together in French-speaking Basile, La., but didn’t become musical partners until Latour moved to Southern California in 1984. Both retired now, they team up with Russell for parties and special engagements, playing either their 1930s-style French Cajun music or the resurgent zydeco, a more upbeat, electrified type of Cajun music made popular in recent years by Queen Ida.

Russell says Le Day, 64, and Latour are purists, two of the last musicians who perform the older Cajun songs. “Edgar is one of only a few fiddlers in the world who can play this style of music,” she says.

Though strong men may flee at the sight of an accordion, in the skillful hands of Latour, it’s a haunting, lively instrument. A quiet man who speaks like a Cajun Dexter Gordon, Latour first picked up the accordion at age 7, and 60 years later he shows remarkable stamina, singing his bluesy French vocals during the Trio’s two lengthy sets--2 straight hours, a break, then another 1 1/2 hours.

Latour is the designated leader of the group, where he applies his rare talent for leading a dance. “Wilfred has an unerring sense about dancers,” Russell explains. “He can read the dance floor like nobody I’ve ever seen. He can shake people up when he has to.”

So can Latour’s wife, Elvina, simply by serving her potent sausage-chicken-shrimp gumbo. Elvina spends 2 hours the day of every dance cooking 5 to 6 gallons of her own special recipe at the Latours’ Lynwood home, then transporting it to Culver City, where it sells for $3 a bowl. She spends the duration of the dance in the kitchen, which is fine with her. “I’ve had my share of dancing,” she says.

The gumbo is served all night long, starting at 6:30, as hungry hoofers begin filing into the hall. The music won’t start until 7:30, when the Trio performs their music in spurts, to give the dance instructors time to turn the roomful of two-left-footers into Cajun stompers. Doing the honors are Randall and Andrea Brown, a married couple who met at a Cajun dance.

“We teach a Texas swing, my generation’s style of dance,” says Randall, 36, a New Orleans native. “It’s very aerobic, very active. There’s no book on it, so I can’t tell you you’re doing it wrong.”

The Browns try their hardest to get the crowd to mimic their best moves, and though the regulars appear to have mastered the steps, the neophytes are hesitant. Despite their enthusiasm, most of the dancers are no threat to the Astaire-Rogers legacy, but to Brown that’s precisely the point. “It’s real informal here,” he says. “I think anybody can get out here and do it.”

Most people attending are between 25 and 55 years old, and most of these are in their mid-30s, Russell says. Most come as couples--about one-third of the crowd is single--but none can resist doing some kind of gyration on the perfect-for-dancing hardwood floors of the Masonic Temple. Only a few stay on the chairs along the walls or sit at one of the tables near the gumbo.

This is also an uninhibited crowd eager to display its fashion dexterity, with outfits ranging from embroidered square-dance ensembles to thrift-store chic. “Check out that ‘50s-style skirt with the simulated rhinestone cucumbers,” deadpans Katherine Croshier, a clothes designer from Silver Lake. “Isn’t it inspiring?”

Croshier is a Hungarian dancing enthusiast who is at the Cajun dance for the first time on the recommendation of a friend. At first, she isn’t sure she belongs. “It looks like a bunch of old hippies and people from the Midwest, but they look like they’re having a good time.”

Halfway through the first set, as more people trickle in, the Trio is joined on stage by a tall, lanky man who begins scraping rhythmically on an ancient washboard. He is Gene Latour, no relation to Wilfred, but “an honorary cousin of the band,” Russell says. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Latour, 65, says he has no living family, but has found a home at the dance. “They’ve adopted me,” he asserts, between sips of gumbo. “I’m a genuine imitation Cajun.”

Feeling at home at this dance is a commonly expressed sentiment. That includes many of the singles, who say they are uncomfortable at noisy bars where they are pressured to dance with questionable characters. Here the only pressure is when a clumsy dancer steps on a partner’s foot.

“It’s an old-fashioned way to meet people,” says Croshier, 36, who started going to ethnic dances when she was about to leave her husband. “It’s not a meat market. I’ll even dance with the geeks here.”

After a couple of hours, it is difficult to distinguish between those who arrived together and those who just met. One couple dancing close, Nancy and Garth, have only been acquainted for a few moments.

“I just moved to L.A. and came here alone,” says Nancy, who is in the Folklore Department at UCLA. “I’ll be back.”

Garth has been attending the dance for a couple of years and was showing Nancy how it’s done. “I learned to dance from Andrea Brown, with only one dance. Next thing I knew, I was hooked.”

Some regulars at the dance are less interested in the footwork than in the catharsis they feel from the bluesy Cajun chords. Genni Wallace, 41, who lives in Venice, where she teaches women the art of American Indian ceremony, or “the goddess/woman thing” as she calls it, thinks the event is an important experience for her students.

“I bring all my womankinds here,” she says. “This dancing is a healing.” True to her word, Wallace has brought a few women, this evening, most of of whom are first-timers. By the end of the night they agree with their mentor that the Cajun dance is part entertainment, part therapy. “It becomes a community feeling,” Wallace adds.

Lisa Richardson credits the music for conjuring up an almost hypnotic environment. “The music creates the atmosphere,” she says. “It’s that way in Louisiana, and it’s that way here. I can’t imagine this special feeling in a place without this music.”

Or as Edgar Le Day puts it, “If I don’t make your feet move, I ain’t reached you.”

The Cajun Dance in Culver City is held the first Friday of every month at the Culver City Masonic Temple at 9635 Venice Blvd., Culver City. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Cost is $4.

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Los Angeles Times July 12, 1991

The World Accordion to Latour : Cajun: The musician was raised on the original Louisiana sound and, at 69, still performs it with peppery passion. He will play Saturday night in Anaheim.

By JIM WASHBURN

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GARDEN GROVE —

To fans and scholars of Cajun music, Amede Ardoin and Adam Fontenot are legendary names, founders of the infectious accordion-based Cajun music that has grown from a regional backwater style to find a worldwide audience.

To Wilfred Latour, though, the long-departed Ardoin and Fontenot aren’t sketchy chapters in a musicologist’s treatise. They were neighbors and family friends, who sat a 7-year-old Latour on their knees and taught him the rudiments of his instrument.

Now 69, Latour is one of the few remaining links to the origins of Cajun accordion music, which he still performs with a peppery passion, both in his Louisiana Cajun Trio and with Wilfred Latour and his Goodtime Zydeco Aces. The latter outfit--which includes fiddle player Tom Sauber, bassist Carolyn Russell, guitarist Jerry Benton, drummer Charles Givings and rub-board player Stanley Fontenot--performs Saturday night at the Anaheim Cultural Arts Center.

Like so many other elder musicians, Latour has a spirit and animation that belies his years. Tuesday at Russell’s Garden Grove home (once the site of many folk dances and concerts; Russell is a longtime proponent of folk music in the county), Latour recalled his 62 years behind the bellows with a sharp memory filtered through a rich Creole accent.

Latour, who transplanted to Southern California in 1984, grew up in the heart of Acadiana, in a rural area between such south Louisiana outposts as Mamou, Basile and Eunice. Like nearly all of his neighbors, Latour’s family was sharecroppers, working cotton, corn and rice. His father also was a respected fiddle player, who would perform at weekend dances.

“My dad wanted me to also be a violin player,” Latour said. “But I wanted that accordion. The sound of it just grabbed me. So I grabbed it.

“Back then practically all they had in Cajun music--we called it Creole music--was the fiddle. The accordion itself was a new instrument to us at the time. Amede and Adam were two of the first to start using it, back before I was born. That accordion music started appealing to people right away because it was a very attractive rhythm of music, so different from the violin, which everyone was used to. Some accordion players based their music on the violin playing, but Amede made it something that was more fast, more jumpy.”

Latour explained that at the dances in his youth, they would have a “sleeping room” to put the young children in while the adults danced.

 “They’d put me to sleep in a room, but I was so curious I just didn’t want to let go; I didn’t want to get away from that accordion. So I would go get underneath a bench in where they were dancing so I could hear the music. That’s how I first saw Amede and Adam. So when Amede would visit at the house, he’d already seen how interested I was in music, and he’d say, ‘You know I believe you’re going to make a musician.’ He was interested to see the interest I took in music, because I was so small and could already do a little on the accordion.”

Under the tutelage of Ardoin and, later, Fontenot (who also was the father of famed fiddler Canray Fontenot), Latour learned his way around the now-traditional Cajun one-row button accordion. He was performing at dances by the time he was 12 and was “being my own man” by 14, when he began performing on his own. At the time, he said, Cajun bands usually consisted of just two or three players, on fiddle, triangle and accordion.

“That meant it was hard work then,” he said, “because you had to learn to play completely by yourself, it wasn’t several guys playing a part and the leader just taking a short solo. You really had to know your instrument.

“Amede and Adam taught me the scales and that, but music really is a gift. It’s a feeling, and they can’t teach you that. It has to come from inside"--Latour tapped his chest--"Something has to be in you. If you’re not relating what you feel, you’re just wasting time by trying to play. You’re only making noise.”

The sharecropping life in Acadiana was a simple one. There were no cities nearby then, and the towns weren’t much to speak of. One could only see a movie, Latour recalled, when a traveling show would set up a tent and projector in a field and show silent films for a nickel. Not that folks much wanted to see movies.

“People working on farms didn’t worry about going to no movies, because they were silent, you didn’t hear anything. You’d work in the field six days . . . and when you’d get out of the field Saturday evening, all you’re looking for is, ‘Where’s the dance going to be tonight?’

“I’d work all day in the field, come back to get my accordion, and go out and play all hours at night. And I kept doing that week after week, year after year.”

During the Depression years the dances were strictly segregated, but Latour said black and white neighbors would often get together in their homes to play music.

“My daddy would play violin, and they would come dance together, one learning from the other. But at that time if the white people had a dance, it was just white people. If we--they didn’t use black then, it was people of color --had a dance, the whites didn’t come to it. Uh-unh. Fortunately, that’s changed now; people have just about forgot about that.”

While honing his skills over the decades, Latour kept abreast of the changes taking place in the music. Chief among those was the advent of zydeco music, the melding of the traditional music with new instrumentation and rhythm and blues influences. While Latour’s good friend Clifton Chenier popularized the music and was the first to adopt its now standard piano-keyboard accordion, Latour says the style dates to before Chenier started playing.

“The first two men to play that kind of music--nobody ever wrote books about them--were Sidney Babineaux and a person everyone just called Black Snake Slim. Sidney Babineaux came up with that rhythm 50 or 60 years ago. He started playing a different accordion--a two-row and then a three-row--than everyone else was using, then Clifton came along with that piano accordion, picking up on the sound of those two.

“With this music, the instrument you play it on makes a big difference in how it sounds. I can play the same song on both the Cajun and piano accordions, and they’re going to come out very different.”

Latour typically plays the small Cajun accordion in the Louisiana Cajun Trio and the piano model with his revved-up zydeco band. Just as he earlier had learned from the best proponents of the Cajun accordion, he learned his piano accordion technique from Chenier, the uncontested and recently departed “King of Zydeco,” who in return learned the traditional styles from Latour.

While Chenier and a few others earned their living solely with their music, Latour held onto his day jobs, first farming and then working for an oil company. “Clifton warned me early on that you have to be careful with this music because it’s an up and down thing. Or, as he said, ‘It’s hell.’ ” He did manage to get away to travel with his band, building a following in California, which has an appreciable Cajun/Creole population.

When he retired from the oil company in 1984, he moved to the Los Angeles area, both to be near his children and because, ironically, he felt then that his brand of music stood a better chance away from its natural element.

“This music practically died in Louisiana for a while. For a few years before I moved here, it seemed people didn’t care too much for this kind of music. They were too used to it and wanted something new. But I found out when I’d performed here that everybody was impressed by this music. I could see a future in it here. If I’d have stayed back home, I’d probably have had to give it up.”

While there has since been a proud resurgence in Cajun music in Acadiana, Latour has indeed fared well here. There is hardly a week when he isn’t busy. Here in Orange County, in addition to Saturday’s Anaheim show, his Cajun trio will appear at the Fullerton Museum Center on July 26.

He likes the busy schedule just fine.

“You can’t retire from music. You take a musician like me: You do it all your life, and music becomes a part of your life. It’s what I’ve been doing since I was 7. So I can’t say I’m going to quit, not as long as I’m able to do it. And there’s something about it that’s good for you. It keeps you going. Look at old Cab Calloway, he’s some 80 years old, and he doesn’t retire.”

Wilfred Latour and his Zydeco Goodtime Aces will play Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Anaheim Cultural Arts Center, 931 N. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim. Tickets: $9. Information: (714) 638-1466.

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Los Angeles Times March 15, 1993

New Hot Spot Welcomes Cajun Band

        By JIM WASHBURN - Special to the Times

ORANGE - “It’s too hot in there!”

That’s not a comment that was made outside too many buildings in the county during the not-quite-spring night this past Friday. And it’s not that the Women’s Club of Orange is a cramped or cloistered place; the airy high-ceilinged hall has a plenitude of huge windows, and all of them along with the doors were wide open Friday.

The temperature was due to the hall being filled with Cajun music and with people dancing to it like antic molecules. Just as adding Tabasco certainly ups the BTU rating of any food, the great musical export of Louisiana’s bayous seems to bring its own steamy atmosphere along with it.

Friday’s performance of the Brand-New Old-Time Cajun Band inaugurated the Women’s Club hall as the latest home for folk-oriented shows in the county. The room is delightfully suited for such shows, hearkening to the great school auditoriums of yesteryear.

The acoustics are only fair, but it was hard to judge that amid the resounding stamp of feet on the hardwood floor, which may spell out the potential of the hall better than any sonic appraisal. It’s a place where it’s easy for people to feel good.

Longtime folk-show organizer Carolyn Russell--who also plays guitar and bass with the Cajun band--has some experience with offering people-friendly locales. For years she put on folk music shows and dances at her Garden Grove home, until city officials realized citizens were having unlicensed fun and shut her down.

She next found a home for the music at the Anaheim Cultural Arts Center, until officials decided that demolishing that wonderful old hall was in the public interest.

One can only hope such closures aren’t indicative of a trend, because shows like Friday night’s can be among the most heartwarming, community-binding events one could hope to find in these chillingly divisive times. The hall was packed to its 280 capacity with people of all ages, races and strata, all dancing together and enjoying the music.

Of the people who weren’t dancing, as many had their chairs facing the dance floor as were facing the stage. As it often is in Louisiana, the music provided by the players was functional rather than show music, and that function was to supply the mood and the rhythm to a party. As regularly as a heartbeat Friday, the band alternated between pumping up-tempo reels and slower waltzes to let the dancers catch their breath.

Though not given to flashy virtuosity, there was no mistaking the intense musicianship of the Brand-New Old-Time Cajun Band. The group is a mix of old hands on the Southland scene and some remarkable newcomers.

Russell and fiddle player Tom Sauber (who also hosts a folk-based radio program) had played with accordion great Wilfred Latour (whose age prevents his full-time involvement in a band any longer) and also with accordionist Joe Simien, with whom they still play some Los Angeles shows.

Though not born to the music, both are expert at it, with Russell content to hold down the rhythm, while Sauber held his own beside accordionist Charles Boulet, occasionally trading solos, but most often sinking into the entrancingly repetitious grooves of the songs.

The rhythm section was rounded out by Sauber’s 10-year-old son Patrick on triangle and accordion, and by drummer Charles Givens, who played with just the right amount of backbeat and flourish.

While Russell and Sauber’s past squeeze-box associates have long histories in the music, Boulet is a relative newcomer. He was introduced to Cajun music in his hometown of Sulpher, La., but spent most of his life in Bakersfield. He took up playing the accordion at age 40, and says he only went at it intently after he retired from his day job a year ago. Russell has said that on a recent occasion visiting her, Boulet played his accordion for nearly 12 hours straight.

He seemed capable of that endurance Friday, never flagging during the finger-blurring upbeat numbers, and even accelerating already wildly speeding tunes such as the “Amade Two-Step.” Watching Boulet made for a curious contrast: He looked as stern as if he were gutting a fish, while squeezing saturated pleasure out of the diatonic button accordion bouncing on his left knee.

The group was completed by Boulet’s wife, Terry, on vocals. Despite occasional reliance on a lyric sheet, she sang the French language songs with conviction and high spirits.

The songs included “The Waltz on the Mulberry Limb,” “Church Point Two-Step,” D.L. Menard’s “The Back Door,” “Cherokee Waltz,” “Hick’s Wagon Wheel Special” and others, all blending into a thick, dance-impelling mash.

The band will return to the Women’s Club on April 23. Like Friday’s show, their appearance will be preceded by free dance lessons.

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Los Angeles Times January 24, 1994

AN APPRECIATION : Wilfred Latour: His Music Really Was a Gift : With his death, we have lost one of the last living links to the pioneering players who created the Cajun sound as we know it.

By Randy Lewis

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don’t look for any glitzy TV movies or quick-turnaround biographies tobe published about the life of Wilfred Latour, the Louisiana-born accordionist who died last week, at 72, of congestive heart failure.

He wasn’t a millionaire, he didn’t socialize with the rich and famous, he doesn’t have a star on Hollywood Boulevard, even though he spent the last decade of his life performing around the Southland.

Most people won’t even recognize his name. But he was a key player in the Southern California Cajun-zydeco music scene, and his death removes one of the last living links to the pioneering players who created Cajun music as we know it.

For his role in helping perpetuate that unique, regional style of American folk music, he was awarded a California Arts Council Master Musician grant in 1989.

But he was an unlikely looking champion.

The first time I saw Latour play, in 1987, he was seated on a folding chair on a small stage overlooking the linoleum floor at the Masonic Temple in Culver City. With his thick glasses, heavyset build and genial demeanor, he seemed less like a bandleader than someone you’d expect to see in a white apron and a paper hat, weighing out a pound of ground chuck at your grocery store.

But when he sang in heavily accented Louisiana French and dancers filled the floor doing lilting two-steps and waltzes, that temple suddenly felt like a bar somewhere near Basile, La., where he was born in 1921.

Latour’s wife, Elvina, usually cooked up a batch of her tasty gumbo and jambalaya and other Louisiana specialties and served them from the temple’s kitchen while her husband played.

The son of a Creole sharecropper, Latour weathered a hard life common in the Cajun and Creole communities. And at the end of a hard week’s work, there was only one way to cap it.

“People working on farms didn’t worry about going to no movies, because they were silent--you didn’t hear anything,” he told The Times in 1991. “You’d work in the field six days . . . and when you’d get out of the field Saturday evening, all you’re looking for is ‘Where’s the dance going to be tonight?’

“I’d work all day in the field, come back to get my accordion and go out and play all hours at night. And I kept doing that week after week, year after year.”

Though his father had played the fiddle, Latour was attracted to the accordion. Not surprising, because among the neighbors and family friends who played the instrument and who coached the boy were such legendary Creole accordionists as Amedee Ardoin and Adam Fontenot.

Honoring those mentors, Latour remained one of the very few Creole musicians who still played that early style on the single-row Cajun button accordion. He started sitting in with Adam Fontenot’s band when he was 12, and a couple years later was playing dances on his own.

Like so many younger musicians who took up music in the wake of “King of Zydeco” Clifton Chenier, Latour also mastered the piano accordion and the punchier, zydeco style that Chenier made famous.

When he wasn’t working on farms, Latour worked in the state’s oil business. After he retired, he moved to Southern California in 1984. Two years later, he formed the Louisiana Cajun Trio with fiddler Edgar LeDay, a fellow Louisianan, and Garden Grove folk music enthusiast and promoter Carolyn Russell on guitar. When LeDay died in 1990, the group continued with fiddler Tom Sauber.

“Wilfred has an unerring sense about dancers,” Russell said in 1991. “He can read the dance floor like nobody I’ve ever seen. He can shake people up when he has to.”

Of the trio’s 1992 self-produced album “Homage,” The Times’ Mike Boehm nailed it when he wrote that Latour’s “voice is as sturdy and coarse as a burlap sack. He sounds as if he’s 70--a vital 70. So does every other Cajun singer worth his gumbo, regardless of chronological age.”

Latour once said that playing music was as fundamental to him as breathing.

“It’s what I’ve been doing since I was 7. So I can’t say I’m going to quit, not as long as I’m able to do it. And there’s something about it that’s good for you. It keeps you going.”

True to his word, he continued a regular schedule of performances in and out of the Southland. As leader of both the Louisiana Cajun Trio and the Zydeco Goodtime Aces, Latour toured far and near in his later years, the most extensive of which was a 17-day concert tour of England in 1992.

It was only in the last year or so that health problems forced him to cut back his public performances at the monthly dances in Culver City, another series in Anaheim and appearances at the annual Southern California Cajun & Zydeco festival, among others.

What made Latour’s performances special was the emotion with which he always infused heartfelt tales of lost love or those bouncy numbers that simply celebrated being alive.

“Amedee and Adam taught me the scales and that, but music really is a gift,” he said. “It’s a feeling, and they can’t teach you that. It has to come from inside. Something has to be in you. If you’re not relating what you feel, you’re just wasting time by trying to play. You’re only making noise.”

A rosary for Latour will be recited at 7 p.m. Tuesday and a Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, 4311 Olanda, Lynwood.