His voice could lean against a tune
like a shoulder against a closed door;
the song almost cried, pressing so hard,
breaking over the accordion line.
He played with a white fiddler he’d met
sharecropping—house dances first,
but soon they’d go by horse and buggy
around the county; half the night
at white fais-do-dos, and then
he’d travel home to play until
dawn for his own at colored dances.
After pleasing the white folks
(with hours of two steps and waltzes),
he’d turn to blues, African songs,
the old French tunes and hollers,
songs of his own, oh sweet Jouline.
All afternoon the white folks arrived
by wagon or horse or in dusty cars,
for the big Saturday dances; come evening
the band would start. At his voice, a pause
in the usual to and fro to stare:
‘Tite Negre, they called him, so frail,
yet his voice belonged in that music, the music
belonged to him, that boy at the mike,
who couldn’t use their toilets, who couldn’t
even step from the stage on break,
who relied on the band to walk him out
though the crowds had applauded him so.
3. Summer 1942
At the Eunice outdoor fair, he only
asked from the stage for a towel to wipe
his sweat. And the owner's daughter offered—
meaning respect—her handkerchief.
They tied him to the back of a Ford car
and dragged him by his musician's hands
and sheared off much of his skin
and cut him loose for his friends to revive.
Or they ran him down with a Model T
for friends to find in a ditch, head
crushed, larynx cracked, but alive.
Who knows the story now? He waited
six weeks, seven to leave
his body; damaged, spent the last
in Pineville asylum, music stopped,
eyes open to silence, in silence.
And now only his voice remains
as it cries through the needle scratch.
Across decades, that voice has entered
our voices: our style, our common despair.
Mes souffrances sont ‘pres m’en aller.Tu te rappelles, m’en aller, m’en tout seul.
My torments are ready to leave me.
You remember I go all alone.
Copyright 2020 Sandy Solomon
Amédé Ardoin (1898 – 1942) was an American Louisiana Creole musician, known for his high singing voice and virtuosity on the Cajun accordion. He is credited by Louisiana music scholars with laying the groundwork for Creole music in the early 20th century, and wrote several songs now regarded as zydeco standards.