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Queen Ida and the Zydeco Kingdom

If I could magically have the talent to play any instrument in any type of group, I would play washboard in a zydeco band.

Queen Ida — with whom I only recently became familiar — simply is tremendous. Here is the beginning of AllMusic’s profile of the Queen:

Queen Ida was the first female accordion player to lead a zydeco band. Favoring a 31-button accordion, she is noted for her melodic playing, and for focusing on the treble side of her instrument, which makes her style similar to Mexican playing styles. Though like many other zydeco artists of the ’80s, her music was well grounded in Creole traditions, she also integrates Caribbean, Cajun (with the addition of a fiddle to her Bon Temps Zydeco Band), blues, and other genres. She came to music rather late in life.

Born Ida Lewis to a musically talented family in Lake Charles, LA, she learned to play accordion from her mother after she spent a few years learning the piano. Her family moved to Beaumont, TX, when she was ten, and eight years later moved to San Francisco. Her first language is French, and wherever they went, they took their Creole culture and music with them. But while music was important to Lewis, during her young adult years she married (becoming Ida Guillory) and raised a family, only rarely performing for social occasions. She briefly attended nursing school but left during her first pregnancy. When her children were all school-aged, she became a part-time bus driver. As they grew, Queen Ida’s friends began more strongly encouraging her to perform publicly. (Continue Reading…)

Above is “Grand Mamou” and below is “Jambalaya (On the Bayou).” I always wondered about that song. It’s great, of course. It seemed discordant that it was written by country star Hank Williams. Was he talented enough to write an authentic song in a completely different genre than the one for which he was known? Do zydeco and cajun artists accept the song as authentic, or do they play it because it is expected by audiences?

(Homepage Photo: Ben Brown)

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