“Man in the Mirror” is more than a song title for Cajun musician Kevin Naquin. When Naquin looks in the mirror, he sees reflections of his father Jessie, who died in December. Jessie encouraged his son’s 24-year music career, often dancing and playing on stage. Father and son leaned on each other during Jessie’s unusually long fight with pancreatic cancer. The disease is known to claim its victims months or weeks after a diagnosis. But Jessie lasted seven years.
During Jessie’s cancer battle, the Naquins hosted golf tournaments that raised more than $125,000 for pancreatic cancer research. Their efforts prompted MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to name an exam room in Jessie Naquin’s honor. Kevin Naquin said their accomplishments define “Man in the Mirror.” “You go through life, changes and difficulties, it’s important for someone to stay true to their character and morals,” said Naquin, 39, a city councilman in his hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana. “The higher road is the better chance to peace and happiness in the future.
“We can’t live in a world that just because we sit in the first pew in church every Sunday, that makes us right. If we have the nicest clothes and fancy car and house, that’s not always living a true life. It’s not about the materialistic things.
“So I think that song had a true meaning.”
Man in the Mirror touched Naquin even more when it claimed the Best Cajun Album honor at OffBeat‘s Best of the Beat Awards. The honor is a first for Naquin, a favorite son of the Cajun French Music Association.
With 10 CDs since he was a teenager, Naquin has won 28 Le Cajuns (the CFMA’s annual, Grammy-style trophies awarded to Cajun musicians). His latest Le Cajun sweep came in 2015, when his No Guarantee album won CD of the Year, Song of the Year and the People’s Choice Award. Naquin took Accordionist of the Year with his Ossun Playboys claiming Band of the Year. Band member Beau Thomas won Fiddler of the Year.
Naquin served as a poster child for Cajun traditionalists, a young musician who stayed true to the waltzes and two-steps of the pioneers. Fred’s Lounge in Mamou, world-famous for beer drinking and Cajun dancing at 8 a.m. every Saturday, put him on its Wall of Fame in 2014.
But Naquin has loosened his traditional stance in recent years. Flashes of swamp pop, zydeco, country and rock ’n’ roll began to appear in his music. There was even an accordion-flavored cover of Grand Funk Railroad’s 1973 hit, “Some Kind of Wonderful.”
Naquin believes Man in the Mirror is his most diverse CD yet. The songs are Cajun standards, like “J’ai Eté au Bal” and “Lemonade Song.” But Naquin shows his humorous side with “Belle Journée,” a two-step that opens with a fight to start a boat engine. Naquin tips his hat to zydeco with a medley, Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home.” Country joins the mix with “Crazy Arms,” “Please Say You’ll Stay” and “When You Say Nothing At All.” Naquin’s daughter Kaleigh sings the latter, a number one hit for Keith Whitley in 1988 and Irish singer Ronan Keating in 1999.
“To have my daughter sing on the album and have her picture on the cover, that’s something I can always cherish,” said Naquin. “It’s something she can be proud of, too. I was honored to win the award. I wish my father could have been there. But I know he was there in spirit.”
Naquin will keep his father’s spirit alive by continuing the golf tournament fundraisers. He’s looking to partner with the new Rock ‘n’ Bowl in Lafayette for a night of live music, bowling and other family activities, with funds going to cancer research.
“I’m going to keep doing raising money because it was a promise to my dad,” said Naquin. “We always said no matter what happened to him or I, whoever went first, the other one would continue it and fight to find better outcomes, better treatments. The hope is my kids will continue it as well. We feel like we made an impact. The community has stood behind us and said, ‘Hey, we want you to continue doing this.’”
Naquin has no plans to stop the music, either. His day job as a medical supplies salesman keeps him traveling throughout the Southeast. He’s seeking re-election for his council seat in Lafayette’s city-parish government. He eyes the future thinking about the man in the mirror and the father who is no longer physically by his side. But Jessie is always in his heart.
“My kids are doing great. All of them play instruments. Now that Daddy has passed, I think so many people enjoyed my father. He was proud of me and I was proud of him. I think people will help me take it to the next level. I really look forward to doing that.”