“The greatest thing about us is that we love each other so much, there are no egos,” Maegan Berard says about the mostly acoustic trio she shares with older sister Laura Huval and first cousin Calli Guidry. “We have gotten to the point where we know how to communicate with each other.”
They’ve been getting to that point for most of their lives, ever since they were young girls singing harmonies together. “It’s about bringing each of us to the next level,” Maegan goes on to say about the internal workings of Sweet Cecilia. “And that’s something I learned from my dad, of course.”
Having a father like the late Al Berard, a talented multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, songwriter, producer and fiddle instructor, would be beneficial in any young musician’s development. Tragically, his untimely passing on Feb. 26 stunned the Cajun world. To say that Berard, 53, was much beloved by those who met him and were touched by his music only paints a partial picture. Over two-thousand people attended his funeral, many flying in from out of state, making it the biggest crowd that the Pellerin Funeral Home has ever seen in its 30 years of business. Afterward, jam sessions sprouted at the American Legion Hall and McGee’s Landing in the heart of the Atchatfalay Basin to honor the man.
Both sisters tell the story of when their father came home one day after a summer tour and first heard them harmonizing together. Surely it’s the radio, he thought but when he went inside and realized it was his daughters and nieces, he shed tears out of happiness, they remember. “I had never seen him cry and he was like, ‘Oh my God, I cannot believe it. Look at what I missed,’” Laura explains. “But he didn’t miss anything because now we see while he was gone all these people that were touched through his music.”
Maegan remembers playing her first gig, a wedding, at age 12. Soon afterward, the girls were known around their home base of Cecilia, Louisiana in St. Martin Parish for singing at weddings and funerals. Berard was always encouraging of his girls’ involvement in music but never pushed them specifically toward it, even though he always left a guitar tuned in the house. The subtle strategy must have worked. Besides their involvement in Sweet Cecilia, Maegan also plays electric guitar with Cajun group Bon Soir, Catin and Laura teaches music at a nearby parochial school.
During the past 20 years, Berard pursued one of his first musical loves, playing electric guitar, and recording an album of mostly guitar instrumentals. Because the idea of a family band was always important to him, he enlisted Maegan, Calli, Laura and Laura’s husband, current Zordico Stomper Adrian Huval, to accompany him on a guitar gig in Sept. 2011. Calli had to dust off traps that she hadn’t played in a decade, but by all accounts, the evening turned out to be magical. That led to more shows where the girls played with and without their father and uncle.
During a Sweet Cecilia show, Maegan usually plays acoustic or electric guitar; Laura alternates between mandolin and acoustic guitar; and Calli plays a small snare with brushes. The group’s strength is in its three-part vocal harmonies, present in practically every song. Either Calli or Maegan will switch off on the high harmony while the other takes the lead. Laura will sing melody or the low harmony part, depending on which parts Calli and Maegan sing. Additionally, all three now write songs, usually reflecting the personality of its author.
“If it wasn’t for him,” Laura says about her father, “Sweet Cecilia would not be playing music.”
For the longest time, the sisters weren’t known as Sweet Cecilia, since they couldn’t decide on a name other than The Girls or Al Berard and the Girls when their father joined them. In early December, The Girls opened the Nue Moon Revue Show, an eclectic quarterly showcase of original music, at the Blue Moon Saloon when they caught the attention of Festival International’s Programming Director Lisa Stafford who was in attendance.
“Lisa, she just loved us but she was like, ‘Girls, y’all are awesome but y’all got to change your name,’'” Meagan recalls. So, through the suggestions of Stafford and others, the group re-christened itself Sweet Cecilia, a double reference to the town in St. Martin Parrish where they’re from and still reside, as well as to St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music.
Later this year, Sweet Cecilia plans on releasing its debut of all originals—but only “if it feels right,” says Laura. “We all have young kids but gosh, we have to spread my daddy’s love and music. So no pressure—wherever it leads us.
“I am going to try to be humble and modest but we are pretty kick ass!” she continues with a hearty laugh. “We kick ass, I’m not going to lie. Our harmonies are tight, man. You just can’t beat them!”