In April 1929, a chapter of Cajun music history was written when Amédé, Ophy and their sister Cleoma Breaux recorded the original version of a quintessential Cajun tune entitled “Ma Blonde Est Partie,” for Okeh/Columbia Records. A few years later in 1936, the Hackberry Ramblers shortened it to “Jolie Blonde” on its waxing for RCA Bluebird. Then in 1946 and 1947, Harry Choates reached a national audience by having a hit with “Jole Blon” twice on Gold Star and Modern Records. Over time it’s become an indispensable part of Cajun culture with tons of amazing interpretations, including those by Belton Richard, Vin Bruce and Jo-El Sonnier.
This year the song about the pretty, mysterious blonde celebrates its 90th anniversary and is the inspiration for the overarching theme of Festivals Acadiens et Créoles that celebrates women in Cajun and Creole music, October 11-13, 2019 at Girard Park, Lafayette, Louisiana.
The more Festivals Acadiens Board President Barry Ancelet thought about it, the more the theme expanded to women being sung about, as noted by songs like “Chère Alice” and “Bernadette,” to women performing onstage and women singing in the home, hence keeping the ballad tradition alive. Women, such as Irene Whitfield, author of Louisiana “French Folk Songs,” and Catherine Blanchet, did monumental fieldwork by going door to door to collect songs.
“So, it all coincided with this big focus on what women have contributed to Cajun and Creole music in what is often been perceived as a male-dominated tradition,” Ancelet says.
The role of women in Cajun and Creole music will be explored at the festival’s annual free symposium “Les femmes et les filles: Female Perspectives in Cajun and Creole Culture Symposium,” on Friday, October 11, at the A. Hays Town Building at Hilliard University Art Museum on the UL-Lafayette Campus, beginning at 9:00 a.m. The symposium will feature a variety of topics such as the lyrical depictions of women, women folklorists, poetry and art. At 4:30 p.m., the symposium concludes with a Women’s Charivari, a noise-making parade, that snakes from the museum to the nearby festival grounds for the opening boudin-cutting ceremony.
Theme-related workshops are set at the Scène Atelier. One in particular, “The True Story of ‘Jolie Blonde’,” 12:00 p.m. Saturday, presented by historian Wade Falcon, will delve into the untold story behind the song, which was inspired by an actual person, not a fictional character as commonly thought. “It makes a really good story because we think she is mythical,” says Falcon. “And like a lot of myths in folklore, it’s based on someone who is real.” Be sure to get there early for this one.