A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
1. 1920s 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. 2. 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.