Barry Ancelet is a worthy recipient indeed for a Lifetime Achievement Award in Music Education. For the past three decades, Ancelet has stood tall as a leading figure in the late 20th-Century renaissance of South Louisiana’s indigenous French culture and language, in general, and a champion of Cajun and Creole music in particular. Ancelet’s important contributions to musical education are expressed through a variety of simultaneous roles. He is: an erudite, highly respected scholar, and a professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette; a prolific author of academic and popular works alike; a folklorist who has conducted significant and extensive field research; the founder of the seminal cultural event Festivals Acadiens et Creoles, which he has produced annually since 1974; the host, for nearly 20 years, of another seminal cultural event, the weekly live radio program “Rendezvous des Cajuns” broadcast live from Eunice, Louisiana; a producer of reissue compilation albums of archival Cajun/Creole music; and a songwriter whose material has been recorded by prominent contemporary Cajun musicians.
Although Ancelet holds a doctorate and teaches college courses, a key aspect of his work takes place in the community outside the arena of university education. In these settings he applies the principles of a self-devised concept he calls “guerilla academics”—the subtle dissemination of substantial information in an accessible, informal manner. This approach reflects Ancelet’s egalitarian world view and his blue-collar roots as he imparts the history and traditions of Cajun music and zydeco, for example, via such means as casual on-stage commentary, panel discussions, radio and interviews, and even in one-on-one conversation. The result is that people are comfortable and receptive to learning, rather than feeling intimidated, resistant, or talked-down to. Ancelet’s role as the host of “Rendezvous des Cajuns” is a perfect example of this approach. Dressed in casual clothes and cowboy boots, he provides the audience with capsule biographies of the bands, cooks, and comedians he introduces. Ancelet’s remarks may be brief, yet they convey considerable knowledge, and the deceptive simplicity of his delivery makes people want to learn more. In an inclusive gesture, he often strides out on the dance fl oor to sprinkle it with cornmeal, thus encouraging audience members to get up and waltz or two-step. This reinforces the sense of the community among Cajun/Creole members of the audience, and illuminates the existence of the Cajun/Creole community for the many out of state visitors who attend the weekly show.
Born in Lafayette in 1951, Barry Ancelet grew up in a Cajun household where regional traditions imbued daily life, and French was spoken as much as English. In 1974, he graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, now known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. After receiving a Master’s Degree in Folklore from Indiana University, Ancelet went on to get his Ph.D. at L’Université de Provence in France. Returning to Louisiana, he began teaching both French and Folklore at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in1985. His many music courses have included Louisiana French Folk Music, Cajun Music and Zydeco, Chanson, and The Literature of Rock and Roll. Ancelet has also shepherded many doctoral candidates in folklore whose theses involve musical research.
In addition to writing hundreds of articles and sets of liner notes, Ancelet’s books on music include One Generation at a Time: Biography of a Cajun and Creole Music Festival, and The Makers of Cajun Music /Musiciens cadiens et creoles. Ancelet’s research on Louisiana French music—conducted in the field, and in the archives of such institutions as The Library of Congress—has resulted in the documentation of such important yet little known musicians as Varise Connor, and the return to circulation of music from the Lomax sessions of 1934. As a result, many archaic and forgotten songs have been returned to dance-hall currency by artists such as David Greely, FeuFollet, and Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. Ancelet often provides the transcriptions/ translations of the lyrics for this material, making them accessible to those listeners who do not speak French.
Ancelet’s recent musical projects include co-production of the two- CD compilation Louisiana Folk Masters: Women’s Home Music, 1937-1995. He is currently at work on a CD anthology of the music of the Cajun and Creole Mardi Gras, as well as a transcribed corpus of the lyrics of great songwriters of Cajun and Creole music—including Dennis McGee, Amédé Ardoin, Iry Lejeune, Clifton Chenier, Lawrence Walker, and others—in order to explore the oral poetics of these genres. These CD projects, accompanied by in-depth essays, will have strong educational components. At the same time, Ancelet, writing under his nom de plume Jean Arceneaux, is collaborating on some new songs with musicians including Sam Broussard and Wayne Toups.
South Louisiana and the worldwide Cajun/zydeco community are deeply grateful to Barry Ancelet for all that he’s done to spread the word.