Call it a match made in roots music heaven. Scott Billington, a two-time Grammy producer with Rounder Records, has recorded more than 100 CDs of Louisiana music, ranging from Cajun to brass bands. Billington is currently working on a companion CD for Swamp People, the popular History Channel show that follows gator hunters.
Johnette Downing, his soon-to-be bride, has used jazz, crawfish, red beans and other Louisiana icons to become an award-winning, world-traveled children’s performer and author. Reading Rocks! her latest CD, touts the joys of crawfish and possums living in the mud.
Billington, who plays harmonica on the disc, said Downing has helped him appreciate Louisiana even more. “I’ve certainly shared Johnette’s passion for roots music, especially Louisiana roots music,” he said. “It’s been so much fun and so gratifying to play for children. They listen so well. I don’t think I was prepared for that. I thought they would be distracted and hard to get them settled down. But Johnette is really good with the kids. I’m the side man. I’m not the main communicator. But it sure has been fun.”
Billington and Downing share their roots music passion with children during their Jazz Fest performance April 28 at the Kids Tent. Along with playing some of Downing’s songs and dances, the couple will perform a ukulele duet for the first time.
The two first met 15 years ago at a cutting edge music festival in New Orleans. They remained friends through the years and recently became closer when he played on her CD. They plan to marry in August in the same mountain town in Italy they were engaged last summer.
Besides recording Solomon Burke, Irma Thomas, James Booker, Johnny Adams and other legends, Billington worked early on with zydeco innovators Buckwheat Zydeco and Beau Jocque, along with the Dirty Dozen Brass Brand. He also produced the Soul Rebels’ latest and was part of the roots-electronica duo Tangle Eye.
Touted as the “Musical Ambassador to Children,” Downing has garnered nearly two dozen awards for music and books that foster literacy, culture and geography. “My whole approach has been to celebrate Louisiana culture and to teach children about our musical roots, our cultural roots,” said Downing. “I also want children to celebrate being children, to celebrate their childhood. Today, we make them grow up too quickly. It’s always been my goal to let them be kids during my shows.”
Billington has felt like a kid again, too. “Everywhere she goes, she just has to sing the first line of ‘Today is Monday’ and the kids take it and sing it from that point on. It’s been amazing.”