Buckwheat Zydeco (pictured on the right) at French Quarter Fest 2016. Photo by Noe Cugny.

Louisiana Music Icon Buckwheat Zydeco Dies at 68

Louisiana music treasure and virtuso accordionist Stanley Dural, Jr.—you probably know him as Buckwheat Zydeco—died of lung cancer in his hometown of Lafayette, LA on Saturday, September 24. He was 68.

buckwheat2Dural was a bonafide ambassador of Louisiana’s rich musical tradition, garnering both Grammy and Emmy awards, and collaborating with artists like Eric Clapton, U2 and The Boston Pops. His band—also called Buckwheat Zydeco—performed at the closing ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympics, as well as at both of former President Bill Clinton’s inaugurations. That’s in addition to numerous nationally televised performances on programs like The Late Show with David Letterman, The Today Show, NBC News, CBS Morning News and the final episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Born in 1947, Dural acquired his nickname at a young age on account of his resemblance to Buckwheat from The Little Rascals. By the late 1950s he had mastered the organ and was already backing artists like Joe Tex and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.

Though his name would later become synonymous with zydeco music, the genre was not his first love. Early Dural-led projects like Buckwheat and The Hitchhikers, which he founded in 1971, were grounded in funk, soul and R&B. That all changed in 1976 whem the legendary Clifton Chenier invited him to join his Red Hot Louisiana Band as an organist. Dural quickly fell in love with zydeco, eventually taking up the accordion and founding his own band, Buckwheat Zydeco, in 1979.

Less than 10 years later, Buckwheat Zydeco had established itself as a force in music. In 1988, they opened for Eric Clapton on his North American tour and during his 12-night stand at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The experience introduced him to a larger audience and led to collaborations with Keith Richards, Willie Nelson, Robert Plant, Paul Simon, Mavis Staples and many others.

After running into issues with the music industry in the late 1990s, Dural co-founded Tomorrow Recordings. He released a number of albums on the label (his 2009 Grammy winner Lay Your Burden Down was released via Alligator Records), and continued to play countless shows every year for much of the 2000s.

Dural was first diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013, but was declared cancer-free later that year. However, he was forced to cancel a number of tour dates earlier this year after a recurrence of the disease was discovered. He passed away on Saturday at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lafayette.