A new CD from New Electric Records, slated for release on June 19, captures an early 20th-century style of music from rural Acadiana house dances by one of its last practitioners. Creole house dance features 101-year-old Creole fiddler Willie Durisseau (1918-2019) on two tracks each comprising three small songs, some of which represent a pre-war Creole violin style of the first decades of the twentieth century that has never been registered.
These performances were captured by Louis Michot on a Zoom stereo recorder at Maison Durisseau in the spring of 2019. Michot is a singer and fiddler of Lost Bayou Ramblers, a Grammy winner and founder of New Electric Records in Arnaudville, Louisiana. Creole house dance will be released both as a 7 inch 45 rpm vinyl record and as a digital download via streaming platforms.
As Durisseau and his wife Irma recounted their memories of 1930s Creole house dances to Michot, Durisseau picked up his violin and allowed his fingers to recall the songs he and his late brother, Jimmy Durisseau, played in their native Lebeau, Louisiana. In their community, the musicians performed exclusively on the violin and the guitar, without the accordion. Creole house dance gives 21st century music lovers a striking snapshot of these festive weekly events.
Louis wrote about his encounters with Durisseau for the Louisiana Folk Life Program:
“In an age when we turn to recordings to give us insight into the roots of French Louisiana music, we sometimes overlook the deepest sources of information and experience in our own region – the elders who played and frequented the house balls. I was fortunate to be introduced to Willie and Irma Durisseau in 2019, who attended many house dances in their Lebeau, Louisiana during the 1930s. Willie was a Creole violinist who played dances.
“Willie Durisseau was born February 20, 1918 in Mallet and grew up in Lebeau, the two communities of St. Landry parish. His days as a Creole fiddler began in Lebeau, where he and his brother Jimmie made their first violins with cigar boxes. They performed house dances in the 1930s and were usually joined by one or more of their cousins, the Joe brothers: Aaron, Caffery and Clarence. Of the two sets of brothers, they played the violin or the guitar, or both, but neither of them played the accordion, and according to Willie and Irma, they had never had an accordion at their house dances. in Lebeau.
“Willie eventually met Irma Doucet at one of these house dances, and the two got married in August 1940. Irma stated that they performed and attended house dances in 1938 and 1939, but that 1940 much of the community moved to Beaumont, Texas, possibly for work. That same year, Willie joined the United States Army and went to fight in Okinawa during World War II. Irma said they played a few small dances in the house after the war, but those social gatherings quickly faded as the community wasn’t as strong as it was before the war, and Willie put down the fiddle to raise his family and work in construction. Willie and Irma then moved to Opelousas to raise their family, but the couple never gave up on their legacy and memories of those days at Lebeau.
“In 2017, a family member bought a new violin from Mr. Durisseau and at the age of 99 he took over the instrument to recall some of the melodies of these dances over 80 years ago. As one can hardly imagine still playing the violin at 101, Willie was able to carry a melody for about a minute at a time, and only a few tunes in the span of an hour, but the clarity and authenticity melodies flowed from his fingers like gold.
“I sat down with the Durisseaus for a series of informal talks in April and May 2019, with Corey Ledet, a Zydeco Creole accordionist, Robin Miller, a local Francophone and culture buff, and JB Adams, a Creole music enthusiast. . and a radio DJ in Houston who was the first to find out that Willie had taken over the violin at the age of 100.
“Willie Durisseau’s music was like a precious time capsule that has been buried in his mind for almost a century. While many musicians modernize and change repertoire as trends change, Willie latched onto the music of his youth and accessed it as a rare gem to share with his family, while Irma recalled stories from older and simpler times. Mr. Durisseau’s ability to tap into those house ball evenings is what makes his music truly priceless.
“Willie’s passing on December 17, 2019 marked the end of an era. He was the last known Creole house dance violin player in Louisiana.