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Music of Louisiana

The music of Louisiana can be divided into three general regions. The Acadiana region of the state (Southern Louisiana, west of New Orleans) is dominated by Cajun culture. To the southeast, the region in and around Greater New Orleans has a unique musical heritage tied to Dixieland jazz, blues and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. The northern portion of the state starting at Baton Rouge shares the similarities with the rest of the US South.

Acadiana music

Acadiana has four main musical genres - Creole music (i.e. zydeco), swamp blues, swamp pop and Cajun music. These historically-rooted genres, with unique rhythms and personalities, have been transformed with modern sounds and instruments. The southwestern and south central Louisiana areas herald many artists and songs that have become international hits, won Grammy awards, and become highly sought after by collectors.

In southwestern Louisiana in the 1800s, the fiddle was the most popular Cajun instrument and the music still carried clear influences from the Poiteu region of France and the Scottish/Canadian influences of their earlier homeland. In the late 19th century German immigrants spreading outward from central and eastern Texas and New Orleans soon brought the accordion as well. Black American farmhands at the time sang a rhythmic type of work song called juré, which mixed with Cajun folk music to form la la, a central component of Creole music. La la was primarily rural, played at parties also known as la las, and found in towns in the prairie regions like Mamou, Eunice and Opelousas.

In 1901 (see 1901 in music), oil was discovered at Jennings and immigration boomed. Many of the newcomers were white businessmen from outside of Louisiana who attempted to force the Cajuns and other minorities to adopt the dominant American cultural forms, even outlawing the use of the French language in 1916. Despite the law, many Cajuns still spoke French at home, and musical performances were in French.

Cajun music

Cajun music is very similar to Creole music. It was rooted in the music of the French-speaking Catholics of Canada and became transformed into a unique sound of the Cajun culture. In earlier years of the late 18th century the fiddle was the predominant instrument and the music tended to sound more like early country music. Cajun music is typically a waltz or two step. In the early days, Cajun music was performed by whites.

Creole music

The term "Creole music" is used for two different genres. The earlier of the two is often called black Creole music or Creole folk music, as sung in French patois by Creoles of African descent. The other genre emerged during the 1930's and is often fused with Cajun music. Black Creole melodies provided a basis for works by composers Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Moses Hogan and others. The later genre led to the development of zydeco, which is itself sometimes still called "Creole music."


In the early 1950s, zydeco gradually developed from the music of the Creoles in southwest and south central Louisiana. At an earlier period, Creole and Cajun music were quite similar, but after World War II, Louisiana Creole music took off into another direction. The accordion replaced the fiddle; electric instruments, drums, and corrugated metal washboard, called a frottoir, were added, along with electrical instruments (guitar and bass), keyboards, drumkit and horns.

Swamp pop

Swamp pop came about in the mid 1950s. With the Cajun dance and musical conventions in mind, nationally popular rock, pop, country, and R&B songs were re-recorded, sometimes in French. Swamp Pop is more of a combination of many influences, and the bridge between Zydeco, New Orleans second line, and rock and roll. The song structure is pure rock and roll, the rhythms are distinctly New Orleans based, the chord changes, vocals and inflections are R&B influenced, and the lyrics are sometimes French.

Swamp blues

A sparse but funky sub-genre of blues that flourished in the 1960s, swamp blues was centered in Crowley, Louisiana — home of Jay Miller's Excello Records, which recorded Louisiana-based swamp blues acts including Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester, Lightinin' Slim, and Katie Webster.


Small, local record labels proliferated from Houston, Texas to New Orleans, specializing in recording and distributing local acts. Labels such as Jin, Swallow, Maison De Soul, and Bayou continue to record and distribute Cajun, Zydeco, Creole, and other south Louisiana music. Many of the original versions of classic songs are still being made and distributed.

One of the most successful label owners was Floyd Soileau. Soileau started as a local DJ in Ville Platte, Louisiana in the mid 1950s, and soon decided he would rather help make music than play it. He started most of the labels listed in the previous paragraph. He and his record shop are important pieces of Louisiana's music history.

Northern Louisiana music

The region's location, bordered by Texas on the west and the Mississippi Delta on the east has not led to a development of a "local" music. Traditional and modern country music has been dominant, creating its own country stars, like Tim McGraw, Jimmie Davis, Trace Adkins, and Andy Griggs.

However, northern Louisiana's lasting contribution to the world of popular music was the radio program "The Louisiana Hayride", which started broadcasting in 1948 on KWKH in Shreveport. Hank Williams, George Jones, Elvis Presley and nearly every other country legend, or future country legend alive during the 1950s stepped on stage at the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium. They performed, many for the first time on radio, on a signal that covered much of the southeastern US. The original production of the show ended in 1960, but re-runs and the occasional special broadcast continued for a few years. The Louisiana Hayride was regarded as a stepping stone to The Grand Ole Opry, the legendary radio show from WSM in Nashville, Tennessee.

Northern Louisiana in the 1950s had a country rock scene, many of whose artists were recorded by local Ram Records. Later, Shreveport produced The Residents, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Private Life featuring Danny Johnson, now a member of Steppenwolf (band), and Sunday Mass Murder.

New Orleans music

In the 19th century there was already a mixture of French,Spanish, African and Afro-Caribbean music. The city had a great love for Opera; many operatic works had their first performances in the New World in New Orleans.

Early African, Caribbean and Creole music

Unlike in the Protestant colonies of what would become the USA, African slaves and their descendants were not prohibited from performing their traditional music in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. The African slaves, many from the Caribbean islands, were allowed to gather on Sundays, their day off, on a plaza known as Congo Square. Permitted as early as 1817, dancing in New Orleans had been restricted to the square, which was a hotbed of musical fusionism, as African styles from across America and the Caribbean met and danced in large groups, often in circle dances. The Congo Square gatherings became well known, and many whites came to watch and listen. Nevertheless, by 1830, opposition from whites in New Orleans and an influx of blacks elsewhere in the U.S. caused the decline of Congo Square's prominence. The tradition of mass dances in Congo Square continued sporadically, though it came to have more in common with minstrelsy than with authentic African traditions.

Caribbean dances known to have been imported to Louisiana include the calenda, congo, counjai and bamboula.

Louis Gottschalk was an early 19th century White Creole pianist and composer from New Orleans, the first American musician/composer to become famous in Europe. A number of his works incorporate rhythms and music he heard performed by African slaves.

In addition to the slave population, antebellum New Orleans also had a large population of "Free people of Color", mostly Creoles of mixed African and European heritage who worked as tradesmen. The more prosperous "Creoles" sent their children to be educated in France. They had their own dance bands, an opera company, and a symphony orchestra. The community produced such composers as Edmund Dede and Basil Bares. After the American Civil War many Creole musicians became music teachers, teaching the use of European instruments to the newly freed slaves and their descendants.


Probably the single most famous style of music to originate in the city was New Orleans jazz, also known as Dixieland. It came in to being around 1900. Many with memories of the time say that the most important figure in the formation of the music was Buddy Bolden. Early rural blues, ragtime, and marching band music were combined with collective improvisation to create this new style of music. At first the music was known by various names such as "hot music" "hot ragtime" and "ratty music"; the term "jazz" (early on often spelled "jass") did not become common until the 1910s. The early style was exemplified by the bands of such musicians as Freddie Keppard, Jelly Roll Morton, "King" Joe Oliver, Kid Ory, and Papa Jack Laine. The next generation took the young art form into more daring and sophisticated directions, with such creative musical virtuosos as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, and Red Allen.

New Orleans was a regional Tin Pan Alley music composing and publishing center through the 1920s, and was also an important center of ragtime.

New Orleans blues

New Orleans was the first place where the early rural folk-style of the blues became popular in an urban setting. Buddy Bolden was said to be the first to have the blues played by a band and for dancing. Rabbit Brown was one of the oldest earliest blues musicians to be recorded. New Orleans blues singers like Papa Charlie Jackson and New Orleans Willie Jackson were noted for their rhythmic style; people were said to be able to dance to their unaccompanied singing.


Louis Prima demonstrated the versatility of the New Orleans tradition, taking a style rooted in traditional New Orleans jazz into swinging hot music popular into the rock and roll era.

The city also has a rich tradition of gospel music and spirituals; Mahalia Jackson was the most famous of New Orleans' gospel singers.

In the 1950s New Orleans again influenced the national music scene as a center in the development of Rhythm & Blues. Important artists included Fats Domino Snooks Eaglin Dave Bartholomew, Professor Longhair.

The Neville Brothers

1980s new style of "street beat" brass bands combining the jazz brass band tradition with funk and hip hop was spearheaded by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (which had more of a bebop influence than many of the later bands), then the Rebirth Brass Band.

Contemporary jazz has had a following in New Orleans with musicians such as Alvin Batiste and Ellis Marsalis. Some younger jazz virtuosos such as Wynton Marsalis and Nicholas Payton experiment with the avant garde while refusing to disregard the traditions of early jazz.

Continuing development of the traditional New Orleans jazz style, Tom McDermott, Evan Christopher, New Orleans Nightcrawlers Louisiana blues created a specialized form of blues music sometimes using zydeco instrumentation and slow, tense rhythms that is closely related to New Orleans blues and swamp blues from Baton Rouge.

Significant New Orleans rock & roll bands include Zebra (band), The Meters, The Radiators, Galactic, Better Than Ezra,12 Stones, and Cowboy Mouth.

Beginning in the mid 1990s, New Orleans became a hub of Southern rap. First with rapper Master P (The Ghetto Is Trying to Kill Me!) and his No Limit click based out of the 3rd Ward, then later came the Cash Money click who popularized a unique semi-melodic Louisianian style of rapping to the Hip Hop mainstream.

Louisiana is known as the most important place for the development of a style of heavy metal: sludge metal. Two of its founding acts, Eyehategod and Crowbar, are from New Orleans, where the genre's most important scene can be found. Other notable sludge metal bands such as Acid Bath, Down, and Soilent Green hail from Louisiana.

See also


  • Blush, Steven (2001). American Hardcore: A Tribal History. Los Angeles, CA: Feral House. ISBN 0-92291-571-7.

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