Courtney Granger. Photo by Noé Cugny/OffBeat

Cajun fiddler Courtney Granger dies at age 39

Courtney Granger, fiddler, singer and a member of both the Pine Leaf Boys and Balfa Toujours, died on September 18 of a suspected blood clot from complications of diabetes at the age of 39. A native of Eunice, Louisiana, Granger hailed from a long line of Cajun musicians and was the great-nephew of the late Dewey Balfa.

In 1996 at the age of 13, Granger joined Kevin Naquin & the Ossun Playboys and released the self-titled album on Floyd Soileau’s Acadiana Sounds record label. Two years later in 1998, the follow up Dans Le Coeur O’ssun  was released on Swallow Records.

At the age of 16, Granger cut his first album with Rounder Records, produced by Dirk Powell. Un Bal Chez Balfa announced a powerfully talented fiddler and a Cajun singer able to nail the high lonesome vocals of Cajun dancehall songs with an eerie ability. He later joined legacy band Balfa Toujours on bass, before joining The Pine Leaf Boys in 2008, replacing Creole fiddler Cedric Watson. He went on to tour the world with The Pine Leaf Boys, playing fiddle and singing with them for the next 13 years, even as his health began to fade from a lifelong battle with diabetes.

In 2016, Granger released his second solo album, Beneath Still Waters, surprising his Cajun folk music fans with a brilliant album of country covers of his idols George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Keith Whitely, and more. Though Granger started playing Cajun music professionally at a young age, his first love was old country music played on the jukeboxes of the bars before his family members set up for the evening dance. Speaking at Pickathon in 2017, Granger reminisced, “I remember crying to George Jones at eight years old, and didn’t know what I was crying for.” Rolling Stone Magazine called him the “Best George Jones Disciple” at AmericanaFest 2016, and said his album was “an old-timey playlist for a barroom-medicated heartbreak.”

Dan Willging reviewed Beneath Still Waters for OffBeat saying: “Courtney Granger has always had one of the purest voices in Cajun music, making him a sought out vocalist… his rendition of George Jones’ “You’re Still on My Mind” on Joel Savoy’s Honky Tonk Merry-Go-Round release made many realize that he was just plain good—period, regardless of genre and language. Fast forward a few years later and Granger is even better and more seasoned on this stone-hard country album. Though several selections come from the canon of Jones (“Mr. Fool”) and Keith Whitley (“She Never Got Me Over You”), Granger pulls off these emotionally heavyweight selections as if he were channeling the spirits of the aforementioned.
His deep, major league pipes make these heartbreakers seem like his disappointments and tragedies, not those of some songwriter along Music Row. He’s compassionate towards the deranged protagonist on “Dance With Me Molly,” who uses the bottle to slip into a happier oblivion, and the guy in “My New Year Starts Today” who finally moves forward after hitting rock bottom. The title track paints a picture of a lonely, dimly lit barroom where a jukebox plays in the corner to solitary, silent patrons lost in their thought and drink. Whether it’s Granger or some celebrity hat act they’re listening to really doesn’t matter. He feels their pain anyway and it’s them he’s singing to.”

Granger was nominated for two Grammys with the Pine Leaf Boys and was named fiddler of the year twice by the Cajun French Music Association. He was also selected by the Department of State four times to represent Louisiana’s Cajun music on a global scale.

A funeral service was held at Quirk & Son Funeral Home of Eunice, with burial in St. Louis Cemetery.

Pine Leaf Boys front man Wilson Savoy started a GoFundMe at the request of Granger’s father to offset funeral expenses.

Courtney Granger performing “Beneath Still Waters” in Nashville during the 2016 Americana Festival: