SATURDAY, APRIL 28—FAIS DO-DO STAGE, 2:55 P.M.
Grammy-winning zydeco artist Terrance Simien has played every Jazz Fest since 1986. “I tell people this all the time,” he says in his Creole accent. “For musicians, there’s no better place to be in the world on the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May than the Jazz Fest. Everything is run so meticulously. You just drive up, bam, they take care of you. Being part of Jazz Fest, it’s a beautiful thing.”
After performing in more than 45 countries, the world-trekking Simien knows festivals. Russia is one of the spots he’s visited since he stopped counting countries. “What an enormous gift to go anywhere and have people waiting to hear your music,” he says.
Simien, a native of the tiny community of Mallet in St. Landry Parish, believes music is more than entertainment. “It’s a medicine. It’s some healing that goes on for the musicians who play the music and for the people who listen.”
Simien formed his first zydeco band when he was a teenager. Music became his ticket to a life beyond his imagination. In 1985, for instance, when Paul Simon traveled to Louisiana during the making of Graceland, Simon brought Simien and the Mallet Playboys into the studio. Simien didn’t make the Graceland album, but Simon gave him a consolation prize by singing backup for “You Used to Call Me,” Simien’s recording debut.
Other landmarks include Grammy wins in 2014 and 2008; being a judge for the New Orleans-filmed TV talent show Sing Like a Star; and musical contributions to the movies The Big Easy, The Lucky One and the New Orleans-set Disney animated feature The Princess and the Frog.
“If you’re gonna choose music as a career, be prepared to do whatever,” Simien advises. “Some things will come hard. Some things will drop in your lap.”
The projects Simien didn’t see coming include his collaboration with Randy Newman for The Princess and the Frog. “It was so amazing to get that call from Disney,” he says. “The music director said Randy Newman had been listening to some of my songs [from Creole for Kidz and the History of Zydeco]. He wondered if I’d come to L.A. and work on a song for The Princess and the Frog. I said, ‘Well, let me check my schedule. Yeah, I think we can do that!’”
Heard all over the world in the hit movie, “Gonna Take You There” goes over big at Simien’s Creole for Kidz educational shows. “I ask if any of the kids out there have ever seen The Princess and the Frog,” he says. “From preschool to high school, they all raise their hands. So, it’s a hit song everywhere we go.”