During his 60 years on stage, Cajun music legend Jo-El Sonnier enjoyed rare crossover success, with two top ten country hits, and performances at the Grand Ole Opry.
Sonnier’s career highlights also include a show with Cajun accordionist Andrew Cormier at a Texas dancehall. Sonnier was only 13 years old.
He had recorded his first single, “Tes Yeux Bleu (Little Blue Eyes),” just two years earlier. “I don’t know how I was able to sit in,” said Sonnier, a Grammy winner in 2014. “I just played a couple of songs, but it was pure-d magic. He just embraced me from there.
“Through the years, he gave me a place to play. He was a gentle man and he had that certain, special smile. He had that style on the accordion that’s still untouchable. It was all stylish, just a remarkable accordion player.”
Cormier’s style and personality are on the minds of many after the musician died June 2 at Acadian Medical Center in Eunice, Louisiana. He was 82.
A native of Church Point, Louisiana, Cormier was cherished as a dynamic accordion player who scored hits with “Club 73 Special,” “Chataignier Waltz,” and other tunes. But he is best known for introducing Cajun music to southeast Texas, where he entertained thousands of Louisiana expatriates working in the region’s oil fields, shipyards and other industries.
Cormier gained notoriety at the B.O. Sparkle Club in Bridge City, Texas. But from 1962 to 1999, Cormier and the Rambling Aces rocked the Rodair Club, a spacious dancehall in Port Acres, Texas.
“He was Mr. Rodair,” said Ivy Dugas, who played with Cormier from 1965-68. “You could ask anybody, and that’s what they’d tell you. After the B.O. Sparkle Club burned down, Rodair was the only Cajun club they had in the Golden Triangle. The place was just packed.“Everybody thought the world of him. He was one of the most exciting accordion players that I ever played with.”
In 1968, Cormier played the American Folklife Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. By the 1970s, he was in demand at festivals throughout Texas.
The Texas Longhorn Club in Orange, Texas, honored Cormier with its Entertainer of the Year Award in 1987. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1986 Rice Festival in Winnie, Texas.
Two years ago, Cormier was a featured guest at “Cajun Accordion Kings,” a sold-out show at the Liberty Theatre in Eunice. Steve Riley, the show’s organizer, said demand was still strong for Cormier, who retired from the bandstand in 1999.
“When I was trying to find players for my first ‘Accordion Kings’ show, everybody suggested him,” said Riley, leader of the Mamou Playboys band. “A lot of people were there to hear him and appreciate him. They appreciated the work he did in Southeast Texas all those years.
“He was just a character. Always ready to crack a joke and have a good time.”