In 1985 Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People Volume I, a sumptuous 444-page book which had been published the previous year, was described in the Washington Post as “perhaps the most comprehensive stunning portrait of this music ever written.” Now, more than thirty-six years later, author Ann Savoy is set to publish Cajun Music A Reflection of a People Volume II, the 456-page companion to her earlier effort. The two books document the music and music makers that are central to a rich cultural tradition that dates back more than 350 years.
While she had intended to publish a second volume of Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People, the planning for which preceded publication of the first, things did not work out quite as she had envisioned. As Cajun Music A Reflection of a People Volume 1 went on to become the standard reference for Cajun, Creole and Zydeco music and win the American Folklore Society’s Botkin Book Award, Savoy got busy and couldn’t find the time to complete the follow-up she always had in mind.
In the intervening decades she, along with husband and master musician and accordion maker Marc Savoy, raised four children and toured the world. Later they included their musically minded offspring in The Savoy Family Band and collaborated with Beausoleil’s Michael Doucet in the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band. Ann would also form The Magnolia Sisters, an all-female Cajun band and join forces with Linda Ronstadt as the Zozo Sisters whose album Adieu False Heart was Grammy-nominated, one of four such nominations she’s received to date, Along the way, she performed and recorded with her gypsy jazz ensemble Ann Savoy and Her Sleepless Nights.
She also produced Evangeline Made: A Tribute to Cajun Music that featured performances of classic Cajun repertoire by Ronstadt, Linda Thompson, John Fogerty, Richard Thompson, Nick Lowe, Patty Griffin, Maria McKee, David Johansen and Rodney Crowell. She went on to produce Creole Bred: A Tribute To Creole & Zydeco that included tracks by Cyndi Lauper, Taj Mahal, Tom Tom Club, David Hidalgo, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Zydeco & Zydeco Cha-Chas, Michelle Shocked, Keith Frank, Ed Poullard, Darick Cambell, Keith Frank and Ed Poullard. Albums on which she appeared were released by the Rounder, Vanguard, Arhoolie, Valcourt and Memphis International labels. She worked with T Bone Burnett on two films — appearing as a musician in “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and on the soundtrack for All The King’s Men.
Ann Savoy recalls, “Before I finished ‘Book One,’ I had already started on ‘Book Two.’ The book was already massive and there was no way I could fit everything I had into it but I ultimately I put it all in a big box and thought, ‘Maybe my children will complete this.’ “
As it happened, the stay-at-home constraints of the pandemic kept Ann off the road last year and she was finally able to realize the vision herself.
Bluebird Press will publish Cajun Music A Reflection of a People Volume II on February 17. Like its predecessor, the new book is lushly illustrated with historic and recent photographs, transcriptions of thirty-five English and Cajun French interviews and biographies and more than 100 songs with French translations and phonetics and musical notation.
The book is not only a reference resource but also is, itself, a repository of cultural artifacts that document an idiosyncratic music and way of life focusing on such artists as Boozoo Chavis, Happy Fats, Harry Choates, Nathan Abshire, Octa Clark, Chester “Pee Wee” Broussard, Wilfred Latour, and many others from the entire spectrum of Cajun and Zydeco music. As an adjunct to the books, the Arhoolie Foundation’s website will host the Ann Savoy Collection, an aggregation of audio assets, almost 200 interviews that are part of the books, as well as interviews with Cajun, Creole and zydeco artists that were conducted over the past 60 years by Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz.
Over the course of her performing career, Savoy found that audiences wanted to know more about the music — what the songs were about, what Cajun music is, what Zydeco is — so she decided to compile a songbook of the repertoire of her favorite musicians. This simple idea of a songbook was quickly pushed aside when she began talking to and exploring the Cajun and Creole artists who made the music. During her interviews with them, their spouses would bring out boxes of beautiful old photographs that told their stories better than any words could express.
Ann borrowed those photographic gems, taking her own photos as she went from house to house. She developed the negatives in her darkroom, printed her own photos, even pasted up the book on story boards in those pre-computer times. In a way, she was doing what folklorist Alan Lomax had done decades before when he travelled the south collecting song and producing field recordings that would serve to document a people and their culture. It was the same for Ann though she broke new ground as a woman who wasn’t backed by the Library of Congress and did what she did with babies in tow.
Writing in Country Roads Magazine, Jourdan Lahaye Fontenot shared the experience of Cajun Music A Reflection of a People Volume II: “Holding so very much, these pages use the power of oral and written histories to engage their readers in memories both quiet and monumental, building our culture’s musical icons into know-able people. And though so many of them are gone now, we can still know their music.”