Monday, May 16, 2022

State of the Genre: Swamp Pop Music in the 21st Century

I thank John Broven, C. C. Adcock, Yvette Landry, and Count D. for proofing the below essay in whole or part and offering their insights.

In early August 2021 local media outlets reported that a south Louisiana musical landmark, the Southern Club in Opelousas, had collapsed — putting an end to occasional efforts to preserve the 72-year-old structure as a historical landmark. A month later, swamp pop pioneer Warren Storm died at age 84, having played music almost right up to the end. Indeed, after his death I spotted an Internet ad promoting a show that, had Storm lived, he would have played the very next weekend. A music journalist once quoted Storm as declaring (in what source, I can’t remember), “They’ll have to pry the drumsticks from my cold, dead hands.”(1)

Warren Storm's obituary.

These two unfortunate events, along with the previous year’s death of my father, swamp pop entertainer Rod Bernard, underscored for me how many first-generation swamp pop performers had passed away since the early 1990s when I interviewed them for my book Swamp Pop: Cajun and Creole Rhythm and Blues (University Press of Mississippi, 1996).(2)

At that time about thirty years ago practically all the major swamp pop originators were still alive — and one, Huey “Cookie” Thierry (of Cookie and the Cupcakes), had seemingly sprung back from the dead. Wrongly believed to have been killed years earlier in a southern California automobile accident, he reappeared in south Louisiana after a twenty-seven-year absence, and just in time for me to interview him for my study. (Five years later he really did pass away at age 61.)

Of the numerous swamp pop artists I interviewed for my book, I count seventeen who have gone to “that big Yesterday’s Lounge in the sky,” as south Louisiana performer C. C. Adcock quipped in a tribute to Storm, his one-time Lil’ Band o’ Gold drummer-vocalist. Those deceased swamp poppers — besides Storm and Dad — include Bobby Charles, Joe Barry, Van Broussard, John Fred, Lil’ Bob, Little Alfred, Clint West, Phil Phillips, and both King Karl and his musical partner Guitar Gable. This list includes only the major lead vocalists and bandleaders, not the many backing musicians, producers, promotors, club owners, and deejays I interviewed who are no longer living — among them producers and record men J. D. Miller, Lee Laverge, and Eddie Shuler, club owner Lionel “Chick” Vidrine, and deejay Buddy King, to name a few. (I should not omit music writer Larry Benicewicz of Baltimore, a swamp pop admirer who documented the sound by interviewing and photographing many of its artists for Bluesrag magazine.)

So how is the swamp pop genre doing today, some six decades after its heyday, with so many fewer of its original music makers?

An early swamp pop record
in 78 RPM format, 1955.

That heyday spanned roughly 1958 to 1964, ending when the Beatles and other British Invasion acts blindsided the pop music world. Those six years comprised an era when swamp pop (which did not yet bear that name) was not “oldies” music, but a new, youthful, cutting-edge rhythm and blues (or just as easily “rock ‘n’ roll”) idiom made by teenaged Cajuns and black or mixed-race Creoles — a multiracial musical idiom born amid (and despite) the racial segregation of the post-World War II-era South. As I described or attempted to define the sound in my book about the genre:

I consider swamp pop to be a rhythm and blues hybrid that is influenced mainly by New Orleans rhythm and blues, country and western, and Cajun and black Creole music, and that is indigenous to southeast Texas and the [22-parish] Acadiana region of south Louisiana.(3)

I also observed in that book, “Swamp poppers are appearing in public on increasingly fewer occasions. . . .” and noted that “swamp pop — still rarely featured outside south Louisiana and southeast Texas nightclubs — has in recent years attracted only a handful of younger swamp pop artists. . . . “ As my father despaired, “I’m just a little afraid . . . that these beautiful songs might all die with us.”(4)

I’m pleased to say, however, that in my estimation swamp pop music is doing better than ever — or at least better than it’s done since its heyday fizzled out in 1964.

Swamp pop pioneers Cookie and the Cupcakes, ca. 1959.
Source: The Johnnie Allan Collection,
Center for Louisiana Studies,
University of Louisiana At Lafayette

A survey of some of the trends and events impacting the world of swamp pop — which does seem to constitute a “subculture” among those who make and consume the music — supports my contention: the state of swamp pop near the end of the first quarter of the 21st century is amazingly stable. The genre seems to be flourishing in its south Louisiana and southeast Texas homeland, though more so in some sections of the region than others. Specifically, swamp pop has become over the decades more popular on the east side of the Atchafalaya River than on the west. This is surprising, because historical evidence shows that swamp pop originated and developed on the west side of the Atchafalaya River, in south-central and southwest Louisiana, as well as in southeast Texas.

Louisiana map showing
east and west sides of the Atchafalaya River.

Why this shift from west to east happened, I don’t know, but I have encouraged more than one graduate student to consider it as a thesis or dissertation topic. (So far there have been no takers.)

Not only do the majority of today’s most ardent swamp pop fans seem to live east of the Atchafalaya River — say, from Morgan City toward the suburbs of New Orleans — but many of the most active, younger swamp pop musicians live or at least perform frequently in that region. Those artists include crowd favorites Don Rich (from Assumption Parish), known for local classics like "Throw Away The Key" and "Every Day Is A Holiday"; Damon Troy (originally from Lafayette Parish, now in Bridge City, Texas, near the Louisiana border), whose "Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda Loved You" has become a swamp pop standard; and Ryan Foret & Foret Tradition (Jefferson Parish), whose cover of "Tee Nah Nah," for instance, is now a staple of the genre. Yet the popularity of these musicians on local radio and local nightclub stages doesn’t entirely explain the status quo. Why do Cajuns and others east of the Atchafalaya regard the genre as so incredibly relevant to their lives? I wish I knew the answer.

In any event, swamp pop persists.

The ongoing swell of appreciation for the genre certainly owes something to the increasing availability of swamp pop music in digital formats. Although this trend began in the early 1990s, if not a bit earlier, it blossomed beginning in the mid- to late '90s. Notable releases include the Swamp Gold series, issued over several years in a series of eight CDs. Produced by Jin Records — a major player in the swamp pop business since the beginning — the Swamp Gold series spurred the Ville Platte company to issue other swamp pop "best-of" CD compilations. These included the Swamp Gold Country series (featuring swamp pop artists performing in a more rural vein), and the single-disk releases Swamp Pop Sweethearts, Swamp Gold: Louisiana Legends, and Swamp Gold: Merry Christmas Wishes to All.

Similarly, CSP Records of Texas, which had been making swamp pop in its own right for decades — witness its several Van Broussard CDs — issued its own ten-disk "best-of" series, Pure Swamp Pop Gold. Then there was the Ace label of England, which released three Swamp Pop By The Bayou compilations, as well as its eight-disk Boppin' By The Bayou series. In addition, producers issued a slew of original releases by individual swamp pop artists, including veterans and newcomers, as well as various-artists compilations on a variety of other, lesser-known labels.

The genre's current popularity can also be traced to a surge in local radio stations playing swamp pop. As recently as the 1990s very few local radio stations played swamp pop — a complaint I heard repeatedly from many of my swamp pop interviewees, most memorably Bobby Charles — but today the genre is regularly broadcast throughout south Louisiana and southeast Texas (and beyond, thanks to stations live-streaming on the Internet). Swamp pop-friendly stations include, among many others, KRVS in Lafayette (tagline "Radio Acadie"), KBON in Eunice ("Louisiana Proud"), KVPI of Ville Platte ("Proud supporter of our own Swamp Pop music," declares its website), Gumbo 94.9 (WGUO) of Houma (featuring, for example, "The Swamp Pop & French Music Show with Bobby Richard"), KQKI of Bayou Vista (which I'm told has its own swamp pop jingle), and KMRC of Morgan City (promising "All Swamp Pop!" and asserting on its website, "The very popular Swamp Pop music format has proven itself to be one of the most popular for all ages. It is our music and local.")(5)

Swamp pop's current favor also owes a considerable debt to Lil’ Band o’ Gold, a now-dormant Acadiana “supergroup” whose lineup included Warren Storm, Steve Riley, and C. C. Adcock, among several other acclaimed local musicians. Although some music aficionados denigrated swamp pop as too commercial, even a bit hokey, compared to more folksy Cajun and zydeco music, Adcock and Riley had an aptitude for repackaging swamp pop for a younger and in some ways more discriminating audience. (“People looked down on it,” Adcock once observed, “they thought those guys were corny and campy, which they kinda are” — though to Adcock “corny and campy” are decidedly virtues.)(6) Much younger than the swamp pop veterans around them, Adcock and Riley knew how to take this indigenous, often overlooked south Louisiana/southeast Texas sound and “make it cool again.”

Lil' Band o' Gold, ca. 2000.

Lil’ Band o’ Gold gave Warren Storm a platform for a late-career “comeback” — a term inevitably prompting fans of every artist to retort “They never left!” — beginning in the late 1990s and snowballing in the 2000s. In turn, Storm and his Lil’ Band o’ Gold bandmates helped “pull the genre out of the doldrums,” as one south Louisiana journalist aptly wrote. Not only did Lil’ Band o’ Gold issue three albums (Promised Land, Lil’ Band O’ Gold Plays Fats, and the eponymous Lil’ Band O’ Gold), it also released an excellent film documentary, The Promised Land: A Swamp Pop Journey, that captured a time (2009) and place (or two places, south Louisiana and neighboring southeast Texas) in the band’s life. As Adcock explained, “The basic idea was to make a film so that we could explain to people what Lil’ Band O’ Gold is and what swamp pop is.” (A New York City showing of the film resulted in no doubt the only swamp pop reference ever in the pages of Vanity Fair.)(7)

Poster for
LBOG's documentary (2009).

Newfound popularity — for Storm, the group, and swamp pop music in general — took Lil’ Band o’ Gold to Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, where it played at the wedding of British pop singer Lily Allen. It also backed former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant in the studio and on stage. At New Orleans’ famed Tipitina’s nightclub, Plant listened offstage as Storm jammed with his lifelong musical hero, Fats Domino, who by chance dropped by the club during a soundcheck. “Fats and Warren are just singin’ and playin’,” remembered Adcock, “and Plant comes down and stands in the doorway and just watches. And he’s witnessin’ a moment. He knows it — and you know I think what a total class-act [he was]. Plant just stood and soaked it up, there was no ego, he wasn’t all jumpin’ up to sit in too — he just stood there, quietly enjoying a very special moment.”(8)

Robert Plant and Warren Storm, 2007.
Source: Warren Storm Collection,
Center for Louisiana Studies,
University of Louisiana At Lafayette

All the attention must have perplexed Storm, who had been playing the same musical sounds in the same regional nightclubs for over a half-century. And sometimes it seemed that half-century had skipped over Storm. As Adcock recalled of their time with Plant, “Warren — he has no real idea who Robert is and he just keeps callin’ ‘im ‘Fred’ all day.” In fact, Storm referred to him repeatedly, no doubt in jest, as “Fred Zeppelin.” Adcock continued, “All through the session he’s telling ‘Fred’ that he’s doin’ a good job. So I end up taking him aside and tellin’ him, ‘Warren, this is Robert Plant, you know from Led Zeppelin, the guy’s a rock god’, cos, you know . . . and then I hear Warren saying to him ‘thank you for the session Mr. Robert Plank!’”(9)

Storm eventually left Lil’ Band o’ Gold to focus on performing with his customary group, billed variously with some formulation of “Warren Storm, Willie Tee & Cypress.” Then, in 2019, Lafayette-area Storm devotee Yvette Landry introduced the venerable drummer and vocalist to yet another generation, much as Adcock had done in the 1990s and early 2000s.

In 2019 Landry published a book about her musical hero titled Taking the World, by Storm: A Conversation with Warren “Storm” Schexnider, The Godfather of Swamp Pop. She also helped to issue a companion CD recorded at Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana. (In 2021 Variety magazine noted that a Storm “bio pic” titled In a Good Place Now was in the works, describing the project as “a feature film based on the life of musician Warren Storm.” The film would tell “this intimate story of Landry and Storm” and “feature a soundtrack with a variety of artists interpreting their versions of swamp pop featuring The Yvette Landry Band.”)(10)

After Storm's departure Lil’ Band o’ Gold continued to tour with local veteran drummer Clarence “Jockey” Etienne until he passed away in 2015 at age 81. Whether with Storm or Etienne, the band introduced some important new tracks to the swamp pop catalog. These included “Spoonbread,” “I Don’t Wanna Know,” and a cover of John Fred and the Playboys’ “Shirley.” It even recorded its own south Louisiana version of Electric Light Orchestra’s 1981 hit “Hold On Tight,” complete with Cajun accordion riffs.(11)

Swamp pop pioneer Tommy McLain had been loosely associated with Lil’ Band o’ Gold for years, occasionally showing up at its gigs to belt out his classics “Sweet Dreams” and “Before I Grow Too Old,” among others. In the late 2010s, however, Adcock began to produce what became a new McLain album. (Titled I Ran Down Every Dream, it was issued in August 2022 by Yep Roc Records.) Around age 80 and having just spent several weeks in a Louisiana hospital (with a non-COVID illness), McLain found himself whisked off to London to perform live with Adcock.

The album, meanwhile, came together and in spring 2022 the project — still in production and unreleased — caught the attention of Rolling Stone. “McLain takes another crack at the big time with I Ran Down Every Dream, his first pop album in decades,” observed the magazine. “[T]he title track, a duet and co-write with [Elvis] Costello, has just been released. . . .” McLain recalled to Rolling Stone, “I’ve had a great career, but I was doing a lot of casinos here in Louisiana and I got burned out. . . . I was doing ‘Sweet Dreams’ and ‘Matilda’ every night. I wanted to take swamp-pop a little further.” Of the title track, Rolling Stone noted, “A bit of swamp noir, it showcases McLain’s warm rasp and also features a vocal cameo by Costello. ‘With Tommy, you are going to hear a man singing from his soul, a beautiful man,’ Costello says. ‘He’s one of the great unsung heroes of American vocalizing, and he still sounds as good as he did when he cut “Sweet Dreams” in 1966.’”(12) In advance of the album's release McLain, by then aged 82, appeared with Adcock at the 2022 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (as did, it's worth noting, swamp pop veterans Johnnie Allan and T.K. Hulin — average age, 81 — and younger swamp pop disciples Ryan Foret and Foret Tradition, and Yvette Landry and her band, the Jukes). 

When I Ran Down Every Dream finally appeared in August 2022 it garnered McLain a detailed feature article in The New York Timescomplete with color photos. “On a June evening at the Colony music club in Woodstock, N.Y.,” began the article by Jim Farber, “an 82-year old man slowly ambled onto the stage and gingerly took a seat at his keyboard. The packed crowd, here for the headliner, was drinking heavily, talking loudly and looking everywhere but the stage. That is, until the man, Tommy McLain, cut the din with a voice so sure, soaring and strong that, suddenly, heads snapped in his direction and conversations ceased.(13)

The Green Book soundtrack, 2018.

McLain was not the only swamp popper making news: the music of Bobby Page and the Riff Raffs — a Lafayette-area group formed over sixty years earlier — appeared not once, not twice, but three times in Green Book, the 2018 Oscar winner for Best Picture. The movie’s soundtrack, issued on Sony’s Milan label, included only one of these tunes, namely “I Love My Baby” — the omitted tracks being “Tired of Hanging Around” and the frenetic “Ba Da,” the latter attributed to Riff Raffs band member Roy “Boogie Boy” Perkins. (Interestingly, about a decade ago I heard a familiar song playing in a national commercial for Yoplait Go-Gurt: it was Perkins’ boisterous “Drop Top.”) These recordings by Roy Perkins, Bobby Page, and the Riff Raffs came from the Ram Records catalog. Though based in Shreveport in northwest Louisiana, Ram had recorded Page (real name Elwood Dugas), Perkins (Ernie Suarez) and the Riff Raffs back in the ‘50s when swamp pop was a new sound. One of the most notable tracks deriving from those sessions was “Hippy-Ti-Yo,” a bilingual rock’n’roll version of the Cajun folk song “Hip et Taiaut,” linked in turned to the Creole tune “Zydeco Sont Pas Salé.(14)

Bobby Page & The Riff Raffs, ca. 1959;
Roy Perkins on bass at left.
Source: Johnnie Allan Collection,
Center for Louisiana Studies Collection,
University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Meanwhile, one of my father’s songs, “The Fantasy Is Over,” appeared in a 2015 episode of Fox’s dark comedy series Last Man on Earth. Disappointingly, the song is barely audible in the background of a barroom scene: only the plinking of the track’s honky-tonk piano can be heard, not Dad’s voice. I commend the show, however, for its honesty in reporting the song’s use and paying the royalties (such as they were), because I doubt Dad himself would have noticed his song playing in the background. However, another of Dad's original compositions and recordings, "Hurricane Watch," appeared more audibly on the HBO series Irma Vep — providing the soundtrack to a silent-movie police raid on a wild French party.

My dad, Rod Bernard (at mic,
with guitar), ca. 1958.
Source: Daily World newspaper

I mentioned Yvette Landry’s book about Warren Storm: Landry was, however, not the only author to issue a book about, or at least mentioning, swamp pop. Other works include Rick Koster's Louisiana Music: A Journey From R&B To Zydeco, Jazz To Country, Blues To Gospel, Cajun Music To Swamp Pop To Carnival Music And Beyond (2002); Tom Aswell’s Louisiana Rocks!: The True Genesis of Rock and Roll (2009); Todd Mouton’s Way Down in Louisiana: Clifton Chenier, Cajun, Zydeco, and Swamp Pop Music (2015); and noted photographer Philip Gould’s Ghosts of Good Times: Louisiana Dance Halls, Past and Present (2016), whose cover featured an image of the Southern Club a few years before its collapse. Four years later came Gene Tomko's Encyclopedia of Louisiana Musicians: Jazz, Blues, Cajun, Creole, Zydeco, Swamp Pop, and Gospel (2020).

Perhaps most notably, however, in terms of impact and sheer space dedicated to swamp pop music was the 2019 reissue of John Broven’s seminal South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous. This revised and expanded second edition appeared 36 years after the original edition — which more than any other source had introduced the term “swamp pop” to the genre’s homeland. (Another British music writer, Bill Millar, coined the term “swamp pop” in the 1970s – or perhaps his editor did. Even Millar wasn’t sure. But it was Broven who popularized the phrase, albeit with help from receptive music personalities, particularly long-time record producer Floyd Soileau and prolific swamp pop artist Johnnie Allan.) Broven also touched on swamp pop in his Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock ‘n’ Roll Pioneers, issued by the University of Illinois Press in 2010.

Today, toward the end of the first quarter of the twentieth century, we not only have Swamp Pop brand soda drinks created in Lafayette — and for a time had Shrek® Swamp Pops, an ice pop issued by Nestlé (quite possibly a fluke unrelated to the musical genre) — but the advent of “queer swamp pop,” as noted of Lafayette-born artist Bruisey Peets (Ben Usie), who represents a younger generation of swamp pop aficionados. “From swamp to shining swamp,” Glide observed, Peets “has steadily evolved with his unique brand of queer swamp pop.”(15) Granted, some of Peets’ music doesn’t sound like traditional piano-triplety, sax-laden swamp pop — check out, for example, “Poached Eggs” — but neither did “Opelousas Sostan” nor “Cajun Rap Song.” There is, however, a clear swamp pop vibe on his track “U Already Know.”)

The Revelers' delightfully retro
album cover for one of their swamp pop EPs.

Among other young musicians to publicly embrace swamp pop in recent years are The Revelers, a Grammy-nominated band from south Louisiana. Established by founding members of the Red Stick Ramblers and the Pine Leaf Boys, the group is known for playing a variety of genres, including, but not limited to, Cajun, zydeco, and swamp pop. In 2014 and 2016 it released The Revelers Play the Swamp Pop Classics Vol. 1 & 2 — an artistic statement firmly declaring the vital role of swamp pop in their own collective musical heritage. (I confess the only swamp pop “classic” I recognize among the eight tracks is “Before I Grow Too Old” — not that it matters.) Then there has been the occasional swamp pop song to come seemingly out of nowhere, issued by artists not usually associated with the peculiar genre. Take, for instance, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears’ “Bitch, I Love You" (2009) — well, that’s the title — and Shovels & Rope’s “Coping Mechanism” (2014). These examples by younger, not-necessarily-swamp-pop musicians, demonstrate how the genre remains a relevant sound in the early 21st century — even among artists far removed from swamp pop’s 1950s origin in the rural and small-town honkytonks of Cajun and Creole south Louisiana.

Interestingly, swamp pop lent itself to international current events when the Tokyo-based group Los Royal Flames recorded (with some of their friends) “Teardrops (In The Days Of Quarantine).” A typical swamp pop ballad in the mold of “Mathilda” — featuring the plaintive vocals of Japanese musician and swamp pop fan Count D. — the song revolves around COVID’s hindrance of a budding romance. The Japanese lyrics translate as: 

A bird in the sky, fly across the rivers,
Go to a window of her house and bring my feeling to her.

I look up at the night sky
And I can see the stars shining brightly.
They tell me that I should wipe away my tears
And one day the long nights will end.

Your long hair, your brown eyes, your spilling smile.
Take off our masks and kiss you over a six-feet wall.(16)

Yet another trend worth noting is a tendency for the term “swamp pop” to be increasingly applied to music that is clearly not swamp pop (unless the meaning of swamp pop is changing, as perhaps it is). I first noticed this trend a few years ago when eBay sellers described swamp pop records as “northern soul.” While there are similarities between the two sounds, the term is ironic: not only is swamp pop not “northern,” it could be no more “southern” without falling into the Gulf of Mexico. Then there are the frequent references to artists like Tony Joe White and CCR (both of whom I admire) as “swamp pop” — to split hairs, they seem to me more like “swamp rock” — not to mention various other performers dubbed “swamp pop” even though they have no discernable link to the south Louisiana genre. Not that I complain — it’s merely an interesting development. As is the recent claim by one budding singer who, fusing “southern rock, indie pop-rock, country, and modern pop,” announced she “is calling this new style of music ‘Swamp Pop’” — unaware, it seems, that the term has already been in use for a half-century.(17)

As of 2022 swamp pop appears to be as popular as ever in its homeland and (if in a small way) abroad. The sound clearly has an enduring relevance to its south Louisiana/southeast Texas fan base, much of which consists (though not exclusively) of older, working-class Cajuns. Swamp pop also continues to attract an overseas cult following in places like Britain, Germany, Japan, and Scandinavia, where listeners with quirky musical tastes — and thank goodness for their quirky musical tastes — have embraced this once underappreciated genre confined not too long ago to obscure vinyl records and analog audiotapes, as well as to equally obscure rural and small-town radio stations, jukeboxes, and dancehalls.

The Southern Club,
a few years before its collapse.
Source: Jiro “Jireaux” Hatano

Swamp pop’s present-day appeal can be traced in part to impresarios like musicians Adcock, Riley, and Landry, and to companies like Jin, CSP, and Ace, all of whom have cleverly repackaged swamp pop for old and new audiences. These gatekeepers have elevated swamp pop from a sound once deemed passé and campy to one with newfound currency and an ironic hipness — a hipness stemming from that self-same campiness and from an anachronistic sound firmly rooted (at least in the case of its tell-tale ballads) in the “woe-is-me, whats-the-use-of-living teenage laments of the 1950s and early ‘60s.

Moreover, swamp pop’s advocates have successfully taken advantage of the digital music revolution — typified, for example, by iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora — to reach fans at home and around the globe, the youngest of whom might never have known vinyl disks, audiotapes, or CDs, but know how to access enjoyable music through digital platforms. This time — unlike in 1964, when the British Invasion struck — “progress” and “innovation” have benefitted swamp pop music and its creators.

Boosted by these several positive trends, I see no reason to think the genre cannot thrive into the foreseeable future and beyond, and continue to take its place alongside its two equally indigenous sister genres, Cajun and zydeco music. As one of those swamp pop-heavy radio stations declares, “It is our music and local.”(18)

Nestlés Shrek® Swamp Pops™
ice pops, ca. 2007.


(1) "Southern Club Dance Hall in Opelousas Collapses,", 6 August 2021,, accessed 17 May 2022; "Acadiana swamp pop pioneer Warren Storm dies at age 84," The Acadiana Advocate, 7 September 2021,, accessed 17 May 2022.

(2) "Swamp pop musician and broadcaster Rod Bernard dies at 79," The Acadiana Advocate, 14 July 2020,, accessed 17 May 2022.

(3) Shane K. Bernard, Swamp Pop: Cajun and Creole Rhythm and Blues (University Press of Mississippi, 1996), 8.

(4) Ibid., 112, 113.

(5) Quoted from KVPI website,, accessed 21 May 2022; KRMC website,, accessed 21 May 2022.

(6) Christiaan Mader, How Swamp Pop Invaded the U.K. and Stole Nick Lowes Heart, The (Lafayette, La.) Current, 21 May 2019,, accessed 21 May 2022.

(7) Reese Fuller, “In Search of The Promised Land,” Reese Fuller website, 15 April 2009,, accessed 7 March 2022; “Top Three Parties: Virtuous Vixens, a Swamp Thing, Literal Translation,” Vanity Fair, 12 May 2009,, accessed 11 May 2022.

(8) “Lil’ Band O’ Gold to tour NZ,” Stuff (New Zealand), 16 September 2010,, accessed 7 March 2022.

(9) Ibid.; C. C. Adcock, n.p., to Shane K. Bernard, New Iberia, La., 10 May 2022, email correspondence in the possession of the author.

(10) Yvette Landry, Lafayette, La., to Shane K. Bernard, New Iberia, La., 14 January 2022, 9 May 2022, email correspondence in the possession of the author.

(11) C. C. Adcock, n.p., to Shane K. Bernard, New Iberia, La., 17 September 2021, 28 September 2021, 12 January 2022, 16 January 2022, email correspondence in the possession of the author.

(12) David Browne, “How Elvis Costello Saved Tommy McLain from Playing Casinos,” 19 April 2022, Rolling Stone,, accessed 9 May 2022.

A Johnnie Allan compilation
on the British Ace label.

(13) Jim Farber, “After Four Decades, the Swamp-Pop Singer Tommy McLain Rises Again,” New York Times, 24 August 2022,, accessed 26 August 2022.

(14) Bernard, Swamp Pop, 86-89.

(15) “Song Premiere: Queer Swamp Pop Act Bruisey Peets Finds Culinary Inspiration in Poached Eggs, n.d. [ca. 2021], Glide,, accessed 10 May 2022.

(16) Count D. [pseudonym; actual ID omitted by request], Tokyo, Japan, to Shane K. Bernard, New Iberia, La., 12 January 2021, email correspondence in the possession of the author.

(17) Markos Papadatos, "Review: Jesslee Releases her High-Adrenaline Single ‘Ammunition,’" Digital Journal,,of%20those%20genres%20could%20b, accessed 10 May 2022.

(18) KRMC website,, accessed 21 May 2022.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Essays on Current Issues in Cajun and Creole Studies

Writings about Cajuns & Creoles.

The below four essays of mine address current issues in Cajun and Creole studies. 

Given my training as a historian (though one familiar with folkloric and sociological methods — my Ph.D. minor field, for example, being Rural Sociology of Minorities), I wrote these articles largely from a historical perspective, as opposed to, say, an anthropological or linguistic perspective.

Yet, as I preface each essay, I wrote these works not only as a historian, but as someone who identifies as both a Cajun and a Creole. As I note in one of these essays, [M]any of my ancestors were Creoles of French heritage. My own family tree abounds with tell-tale Creole surnames: de la Morandière, Soileau, de la Pointe, Fuselier de la Claire, Brignac, Bordelon, de Livaudais, and others. . . . As such, I could, if I chose to do so (and sometimes I do), identify as Creole — doubly so because Cajuns themselves are to begin with a kind of Creole.”

It is my hope these essays will somehow, in their own small way, assist the field of Cajun and Creole studies by engaging in, and spurring on, the marketplace of competing ideas — which is, after all, how scholarship works or ought to work.

I trust those with whom I express disagreement will accept this critique in the collegial spirit it is intended.

The four essays, in no particular order, are: 

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Born of "Elite" White Reactionism?: Assessing Claims about the Rise of Cajun Ethnicity

This essay is one of four in which I address current issues in Cajun and Creole studies. The other essays can be found here.

I wrote these works not only as a historian, but as someone who identifies as both a Cajun and a Creole. As I note in one of these essays, “[M]any of my ancestors were Creoles of French heritage. My own family tree abounds with tell-tale Creole surnames: de la Morandière, Soileau, de la Pointe, Fuselier de la Claire, Brignac, Bordelon, de Livaudais, and others. . . . As such, I could, if I chose to do so (and sometimes I do), identify as Creole — doubly so because Cajuns themselves are to begin with a kind of Creole.”

And as I write elsewhere in this blog, “[I]t is my hope these essays will somehow, in their own small way, assist the field of Cajun and Creole studies by engaging in, and spurring on, the marketplace of competing ideas — which is, after all, how scholarship works or ought to work.”

I trust those with whom I express disagreement will accept this critique in the collegial spirit it is intended.

I thank Dr. Barry Jean Ancelet, Dr. Carl A. Brasseaux, Dr. David Cheramie, independent researcher Don Arceneaux, and former CODOFIL president Warren A. Perrin for proofing the below essay and offering their insights.

To clarify the thrust of the below essay: I do not seek to counter general assertions that the Louisiana state agency CODOFIL, either purposely or by neglect, excluded Creoles of African descent from its cultural, economic, and touristic mission. Rather, I seek to counter the very specific assertion that CODOFIL conspired to exclude Creoles of African descent by creating in or after 1968 a new, White ethnic identity called Cajun.

"Family of Cajun farmer living near New Iberia,"
by Russel Lee, 1938, 
Source: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

A handful of scholars and activists have claimed or strongly implied that Cajuns are something less than a bona fide ethnic group. Confusing the rise of Cajun ethnicity (which occurred in the 1800s) with the rise of the Cajun pride movement (which occurred in the 1960s), they allege the group coalesced only a few decades ago — in the ‘60s or later. As one source asserts, “Cajun identity emerged in post-Vietnam Louisiana,” adding elsewhere “Cajun is a new identity. . . an identity from the 1960s onward.” A sociolinguist who embraces this assessment contends it reveals “the ideological roots of the Cajun movement among white reactionary responses to civil rights.”(1) In other words, not only are Cajuns a recent ethnic group, little more than five decades old, but they originated as an expression of overt White supremacy. 

An early source for this claim is a French Canadian geographer who in 1991 stated, referring to the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), a state-funded French education group launched in 1968:

Despite the fact that the Creole identity had always carried a positive image for white and black francophones of Southern Louisiana, it is under the Cajun label that CODOFIL proceeded to unify the region. This choice can only be interpreted as the desire for the French Louisiana elite to assure for the region a “white” identity. . . .(2) 


The implication that Cajuns are less than a bona fide ethnic group hinges on the claim (to cite the aforementioned sociolinguist) that “the Cajun movement” sought through CODOFIL to recast “Louisiana’s white population as a marginalized group under the ‘Cajun’ label.”

But is this true?

Did a White “French Louisiana elite” conspire in the late 1960s to construct a new ethnic identity called “Cajun” for the purpose of excluding Creoles of African heritage?

The argument is, to say the least, dubious, partly because there is no real primary-source evidence to support it. (If there is, what is it?) Moreover, by CODOFIL’s birth in 1968 Cajuns had long been recognized as a viable Louisiana ethnic group — either, depending on the source, an entirely separate Acadian-derived people or (as I believe) a partly Acadian-derived subset of the larger Creole population. Thus, for example, The Indianapolis Journal observed in 1898, “[A] large element of the French population of the State [of Louisiana] are not creoles, but Acadians, or, as they call themselves and are generally called, ‘Cajuns.’” Conversely, the San Francisco Chronicle noted a little over a decade earlier (in 1887), “The Americans, and even the Creoles, have corrupted the name Acadian into ‘Cajun,’ . . . [and] as ‘Cajuns,’ they are known all over the state. They are, in fact, Creoles.” Clearly, one of these late 19th-century sources viewed the Cajuns as Creoles, one did not; both, however, regarded the population as a living ethnic group “generally called” and “known all over the state” as Cajuns. Thus, we have lawmaker L. O. Broussard's assertation, made during a Louisiana state legislative session in 1921, that "he was proud that he was a Cajin [sic]. . . ."(4)

These examples and many others from the late 19th century and onward prove that Cajun ethnicity did not suddenly materialize from nothingness after CODOFIL’s birth in 1968.(5)

Title page,
Carver's 1926 drama.

In fact, anthropologist Jacques Henry and I, among others, have found primary-source references to the ethnic group as early as 1851 using the French term Cadien and as early as 1862 using the English form Cajun (not to mention other mid- to late-19th-century spellings like Cadjin).(6) 

Title card from the 1942 Columbia Pictures
short documentary Cajuns of the Teche.
Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

After the Civil War the term appears with growing frequency in a variety of source material — the late 19th-century fiction of George Washington Cable and Kate Chopin; the title of Ada Jack Carver’s 1926 prize-winning drama; the subject of a 1942 Columbia Pictures short documentary; the nose art of World War II U.S. aircraft; and the name of a mid-1950s sounding rocket used by NASA’s precursor, to name only a few. (For more about historical “Cajun” references, see my article here.)

Homage to Cajun beauty: 
the B-29 bomber Cajun Queen,
in Asia or the Pacific, WWII.
Source: author's collection

Then there is the claim that the French revival movement advanced by CODOFIL was pro-Cajun. CODOFIL’s founding can certainly be viewed as an expression of Cajun pride and empowerment. Many of its original legislative supporters, for example, identified as Cajuns, as did many of its inaugural members. Moreover, CODOFIL often responded to perceived affronts to the Cajun people.

In reality, however, the organization at once took on a much broader mission: promoting continental French in Louisiana — the French of the Académie Française. Indeed, the bill creating CODOFIL made no mention of Acadians, Cajuns, or Cajun French — nor, tellingly, do the minutes of CODOFIL’s first executive meeting, held in October 1968. Those minutes refer only to the goal of advancing “French” and “Louisiana French.”(7)

Excerpt, minutes of 1st CODOFIL meeting,
October 1968.
Source: UL Lafayette Archives

Furthermore, claims that CODOFIL sought to exclusively preserve or promote Cajun culture are undercut by its long-serving president’s open scorn for Cajun French. That president, James R. “Jimmie” Domengeaux, publicly revealed his disdain for the dialect when, for instance, he aggressively suppressed Cajun French I, a textbook prepared by local Cajun educator James Donald Faulk.

Jimmie Domengeaux,
shown the year of CODOFIL's birth.

Source: La Louisiane, September 1968
(film, 15 mins. 2 secs.),

ORTF, France

Domengeaux squelched the book even as many language educators in the state considered Cajun French I well-intentioned if flawed (in large part because it rendered Cajun French in an English-based phonetic code while omitting conventional French spelling).(8) As I remarked in my dissertation and subsequent book The Cajuns: Americanization of a People (2003):

Domengeaux opposed [Faulk’s textbook] simply because he despised Cajun French, and a bitter public feud erupted when CODOFIL’s leader dismissed the textbook as “a bunch of chicken scratches.” Faulk fired back, “All the Cajun people are for me. They hate his guts.” Domengeaux ultimately succeeded in blocking the use of Faulk’s textbook in classrooms — but in doing so he caused a public relations disaster. The media depicted CODOFIL as an anti-Cajun Goliath, a charge that had been levied for years by some grassroots activists. Newspaper headlines reinforced this perception: “CODOFIL Chief Trying to Block Cajun French Book,” “CODOFIL Frowns on Cajun French Textbook,” “CODOFIL Versus Local Man.” . . .

Faulk's Cajun French I (1977).

I continued:

Domengeaux further damaged the French preservation movement when during the Faulk affair he told a United Press International journalist that Cajun French was “worse than redneck English.” An Associated Press reporter attributed a similar remark to Domengeaux a year later, when esteemed Columbia University folklorist Alan Lomax criticized CODOFIL’s use of imported French instructors. Moreover, Domengeaux defended his practice of hiring foreign instructors by asserting, “They can speak French better than any damn Louisianian.”(9)

Given this, it hardly seems likely Domengeaux conspired with other elites to elevate Cajuns and their dialect, either to exclude Creoles or for any other reason.

Domengeaux speaking to Creoles in French.
Source: La Louisiane, September 1968
(film, 15 mins. 2 secs.),

ORTF, France

Although unrelated to CODOFIL’s activities, it is an unfortunate truth that for years the term “Cajun” has been applied to many things decidedly non-Cajun, including things actually “Creole” (a subject I address here). This practice understandably perturbs Creoles. It may surprise some, however, that this blanket use of the term also perturbs Cajuns — especially when those faux attributions are of a ridiculous “New Orleans-style Cajun pizza” variety, to quote folklorist and linguist Barry Jean Ancelet. As Cajun musician and grassroots activist Dewey Balfa once lamented, “Cajun is being so commercialized. Someday it’s going to be too much, if it ain’t already.”(10)

Example of an odd "Cajun" product.

Rather than blame the slapdash use of “Cajun” on a cabal of White French-speaking elites and their acolytes, would it not make more sense to blame, say, the media and hospitality industries, the latter of which includes the tourism and culinary fields? These economic sectors certainly had the motive (revenue) and the influence (national and local radio, television, and print ads — not to mention restaurant menus) to stress “Cajun” at the expense of “Creole.” But perhaps those industries did not “choose” between “Cajun” and “Creole” at all, but merely used “Cajun,” trendy catchword as it became in the 1980s, out of ignorance? Or perhaps they seized on “Cajun” because they worried “Creole” — a nebulous term to some that can spark confusion and debate — would baffle uninitiated consumers?

I trace the "Cajun craze"
in my 2003 book.

I, however, believe a more likely culprit for the ubiquity of the “Cajun” label might be found in a pervasive force beyond anyone’s real control — namely, the currents of American pop culture. Since the “Cajun craze” of the 1980s (sparked, oddly enough, by a culinary phenomenon called blackened red fish), pop culture has demonstrated an amazing ability to conjure up the word “Cajun” in some truly bizarre ways. As I observed in my Americanization book: 

Something peculiar happened to Cajun culture in the late twentieth century. Once derided as backward, it suddenly became associated with words like “hot,” “chic,” and “trendy.” Mainstream society not only discovered Cajun culture, it embraced it, usurped it, and reshaped it almost beyond recognition. . . . A soft drink company in north Louisiana hawked Cajun Cola. A condiment manufacturer in Arizona introduced Ass Kickin’ Cajun Hot Sauce. A mollusk farm in Oregon marketed “Cajun-Style” Kitchen-Sliced Slugs. . . . Country star Ricky Skaggs reached the Billboard Top Ten with “Cajun Moon,” British pop band Adam and the Ants sang about “Cajun Twisters,” and heavy metal rock group Exodus recorded a tune called “Cajun Hell.” . . . Cookbooks appeared with strange titles like Microwave Cajun Country Cookbook, Cajun Vegetarian Cooking, and Kosher Cajun Cookbook. . . . Marvel comics added a Cajun super hero, Gambit, to its pantheon of crime fighters like Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk, and Captain America. Meanwhile, hack writers issued cheap romance novels with titles like Cajun Rose, Cajun Summer, and Cajun Caress. Even the underworld of hardcore pornography exploited the Cajun frenzy. . . .(11)

Those espousing the “French Louisiana elite” theory do, it must be admitted, cite one piece of circumstantial evidence for dubbing “the Cajun movement” a “White reactionary” effort born of racism. That circumstantial evidence: CODOFIL’s president, the aforementioned James R. “Jimmie” Domengeaux, made racist statements.

Which is true.

Domengeaux, however, was one man; and one man alone does not make a movement.(12)

In fact, one of Domengeaux’s closest allies in CODOFIL’s French revival effort was Dr. Raymond S. Rodgers, a non-Cajun northerner, Columbia graduate, and University of Southwestern Louisiana political science professor. Embracing the 1960s counterculture, Rodgers belonged to the local anti-racist Human Relations Council (which met in his Lafayette residence), openly criticized local conservatives, and identified his own political philosophy (to quote Rodgers himself) as “racial liberalism.”(13)

Raymond S. Rodgers, ca. 1973.
Source: City of Vancouver Archives
(Vancouver Sun/Pacific Press)

Another inaugural CODOFIL member was Haitian-born Creole educator Dr. Roch Mirabeau, director of the non-English language program at historically Black Southern University. Then there were Mirabeau’s fellow progressive-minded CODOFIL members: USL language professor Dr. Hosea Phillips; USL political science professor Dr. Philip F. Dur; state foreign language specialist and high-school language educator Audrey Babineaux George; Athénée Louisianais literary society president James Bezou; USL college student and future language professor Ginette Baillargeon; Cajun and Creole music activists Paul Tate and Revon Reed, the latter of whom worked closely with renowned Creole musicians Bois-Sec Ardoin and Canray Fontenot.(14)

La Musique Creole, originally issued 1974,
with liner notes by CODOFIL member Revon Reed.

These hardly seem like “White reactionaries” bent on segregating Louisiana’s Black and mixed-race Creoles from their White counterparts. This is not to say that some early CODOFIL members were not reactionaries. Domengeaux, Roy Theriot, and C. J. “Bobby” Dugas, for example, could certainly be illiberal.(15) And no doubt some CODOFIL members viewed the organization as a negative counter to the civil rights movement — but one should avoid broad-brushing an entire organization (and movement) based on the attributes of only a few members. Many involved with CODOFIL, such as the aforesaid progressives, did not recoil from the civil rights movement. Some even embraced it. Ancelet, for example, recalls of young CODOFIL-linked scholars who like himself came of age in the late 1960s and early ‘70s: “[M]any of our generation of 'activists' insisted consistently on including Cajuns and Creoles in our considerations. We deliberately included all angles of the Louisiana French experience out of a desire to be thorough. We also worked actively against efforts to disparage or exclude any part of the mix from the whole story.”(16)

One of Barry Jean Ancelet's books.

Indeed, the rise of CODOFIL is properly viewed not as a localized south Louisiana event that occurred in a vacuum, but as part of a national upsurge in ethnic pride and empowerment taking its cue from the Black-led civil rights movement. As I wrote in Americanization:

[T]he 1960s . . . exerted a major impact on ethnic groups across America. A new “Age of Ethnicity” developed in reaction to the Anglo-conformism of previous times, as minorities demanded their rights and honored their heritage. This trend grew out of the civil rights and black power movements, as well as the counterculture, all of which had declared war on traditional attitudes. . . . By 1970 Newsweek declared “ethnic power” a “rising cry” among the American people.(17)

A remarkable irony, however, is that while no primary-source evidence exists of White “French Louisiana elites” conspiring in the late 1960s per CODOFIL or any other organization to exclude Creoles of African heritage, there is evidence of Creole elites excluding Cajuns from their society.

Brasseaux's 1987 book,
The Founding of New Acadia.

These were 19th-century White Creoles, but Creoles nonetheless. As historian Carl A. Brasseaux observed in The Founding of New Acadia: The Beginnings of Acadian Life in Louisiana, “Creole-Acadian tensions were compounded . . . by the [Creole] aristocracy’s growing conviction that its less affluent and less ambitious neighbors were a crass and uncultured people, whose standards of conduct must be altered to meet Creole standards of behavior. . . .” Similarly, educator Shields McIlwaine noted of the Creole attitude toward Cajuns: “[T]he 'descendants of Evangeline' . . . had been, as Cable said, 'the jest of the proud Creole' — the French aristocracy, who often had a word for the poorer Cajuns: 'Canaille!' — that was their way of saying poor-white trash.”(18)

This anti-Cajun classism among Creoles is evident in the primary-source record. In 1901, for instance, an observer noted:

There is still a disposition to look with contempt on the Acadian on the part of some. . . . [T]he creole regards it as the greatest indignity to mistake him for an Acadian.(19)

Similarly, in 1898 a journalist affirmed:

The creoles, many of whom boast of the bluest of the blue blood, have always treated their plebeian fellow countrymen [the Cajuns] with a good-natured contempt (which the Cajuns bitterly resent) and have so far done nothing for their social or mental advancement.(20)

Source: The Indianapolis Journal, 28 January 1898.

The Yale Literary Magazine remarked in 1889 of a noted Louisiana writer’s depiction of Cajuns:

[O]n the faintly undulating prairies of Opelousas, live another people of French ancestry, the descendants of the Acadians who were driven from Nova Scotia. The Creoles look down upon these home-living country-folk. . . .(21)

And an 1881 federal census study maintained (referring overtly to the issue of exclusion):

The Creoles proper will not share their distinction with the native descendants of those worthy Acadian exiles who . . . found refuge in Louisiana. These remain “cadjiens” or “cajuns”. . . .(22) 

Nevertheless — I contend it is best for all parties to cast off acrimony about one group excluding another. After all, is it not the very nature of racial and ethnic groups to exclude others? As pioneer sociologist Fredrik Barth asserted, “[T]he ethnic boundary . . . defines the group, not the cultural stuff that it encloses. . . . [The boundary] entails criteria for determining membership and ways of signalling membership and exclusion” [Barth’s emphasis].(23)

Barth's 1969 classic
study of ethnicity.

Instead, I suggest that Cajuns and Creoles (of all colors) should work together for their mutual benefit, as some have indeed been doing for decades. I urge this even more so because in south Louisiana the word Creole often denotes, in its broadest sense, a native-born person of French-speaking, Roman-Catholic heritage, regardless of skin color . . . a description clearly embracing those who identify as Cajuns.

In short, Cajuns are Creoles (as I discuss here).

Books about Cajuns
and other types of Creoles.

Yet the charge, unsupported by primary-source evidence, that a “French Louisiana elite” conspired against Creoles of African heritage to benefit a new identity dubbed Cajun raises vital questions for scholars and activists. For instance, cannot Creoles be appreciated, and their language, history, and culture admired (as they ought to be), without denigrating Cajuns? The same Cajuns who for so long have lived among the Creoles, and between whom so much cross-cultural borrowing has occurred, in both directions, that it is impossible to imagine one group without the other?

It similarly might be asked: is it ever acceptable for scholars and activists to advocate for one racial or ethnic group at the expense of another? I do not mean choosing to study or to devote oneself to one group and not another. Rather, I mean to actively champion one group by demeaning another.

Beyond this, however, looms what I consider a much more significant issue: namely, what are the moral implications for scholars and activists who insist that a living, thriving ethnic group — one found in the historical record for over a century and a half — is illegitimate, even in a sense non-existent? Who tell a people its dialect is fictitious and thus unworthy of study — or as one of these scholar-activists recently claimed, and rather flippantly at that, “the label ‘Cajun French’ is unsuitable for academic research. . . .”(24)

In today’s moral climate, which calls on us to respect professed identities and to spurn attempts at racial and ethnic erasure, is it appropriate to tell Cajuns: “Your label is wrong — your story is untrue — you do not exist”? 

Those who seek to advance the study of racial and ethnic groups should, I assert, respect those communities’ beliefs — not deride them or, worse, seek to supplant them with their own, perhaps doctrinaire beliefs. The fact of the matter is, there are over a hundred thousand people, largely in south Louisiana and east Texas, who identify as “Cajuns”; and who consider “Cajun French” — a term Ancelet regards as rightly denoting Louisiana French when spoken by Cajuns — as their traditional tongue.(25) These proud, self-aware people are not going away, nor are they likely to respond (certainly not affably) to claims they and their dialect are illegitimate and deserving of erasure.


(1) Christophe Landry, “Basic Louisiana History & The Acadian(A) [sic] Flag Debacle, 15 August 2018, Louisiana Historic & Cultural Vistas,, accessed 11 May 2022; ________, “Crawfish, Cajuns And Acadians, 4 June 2018,, accessed 11 May 2022; Oliver Mayeux, “Language Revitalization, Race, and Resistance in Creole Louisiana,” in Louisiana Creole Peoplehood: Afro-Indigeneity and Community, ed. Rain Prud’homme-Cranford et al. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2022), 144. 

See, for example, Jules Bentley, “Blanc Like Me: Cajuns Vs. Whiteness,” July 2019, Antigravity,, accessed 2 May 2022; Alexandra Giancarlo, “‘Don’t Call Me a Cajun!’: Race and Representation in Louisiana’s Acadiana Region,” Journal of Cultural Geography 36, No. 1 (2018): 23-48, accessed per, 14 September 2020; Nicholas Adam Tate, “Cultural Commodification, Homogenization, Exclusion, and the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana,” master's thesis, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Spring 2021,, accessed 23 May 2022.

See also my essay “Thoughts on Cajuns and ‘Whiteness,’” blog article

Interestingly, Tate concluded that There is no evidence in the CODOFIL archives to suggest that CODOFIL intentionally sought to exclude Creoles of Color from the Louisiana French Movement or from participating in programs or policies. Rather, Tate asserts that CODOFIL unintentionally excluded Creoles of African heritage who, however, also excluded themselves as a means to maintain their distinct culture and francophone identity.” Tate, “Cultural Commodification,” 59, 69.

(2) Cécyle Trépanier, “The Cajunization of French Louisiana: Forging a Regional Identity,” The Geographical Journal 157 (July 1991): 164.

Trépanier drew heavily on the work of Eric Waddell. See E. Waddell, “La Louisiane française: une poste outre-frontière de l’Amérique française ou un autre pays et une autre culture?” Cahiers de géographie du Québec 23 (September 1979): 199–215, accessed per the website of the International DOI [Digital Object Identifier] Foundation,, 29 April 2022.

I disagree with Trépaniers unnuanced assertion that “the beautification of the Cajun identity began to take place in the late 1960s” (p. 161). What began to take place in the 1960s was the rise of Cajun pride and empowerment as a movement. Prior to that decade, however, Cajun identity (which long predated the 1960s) had never been uniformly viewed as sullied and therefore in need of beautification. As I note elsewhere, early appearances of the word Cajun “include not only negative, but neutral and positive occurrences” (despite occasional present-day claims that Cajun had been used solely as a negative term prior to the late 1960s). Thus we see positive historic declarations such as Cadiens . . the true name of this valiant population” (1877) and those worthy Acadian exiles who . . . [are called] cadjiens or cajuns. . .” (1881). (This partly explains why we find more than one or two U.S. aircraft in World War II bearing the loving nickname Cajun on their fuselages — about a quarter-century before Trépanier claims the identity it stood for began to be beautified.) Source: see my essay “Notes on the Birth of Cajun Ethnic Identity, blog article.

The Little Cajun in WWII,
a literal homage to Cajun beauty.
Source: author's collection

(3) Mayeux, “Language Revitalization,” 147.

(4) “The ‘Cajuns’ of Louisiana,” Dallas (Tex.) News, reprinted in The Indianapolis Journal, 28 January 1898, 7; “The Acadians: A Picturesque People Unchanged by Time,” San Francisco Chronicle, reprinted in The Abbeville (S.C.) Press and Banner, 29 June 1887, 7; “Acts Hereafter Only in English,” The (Opelousas, La.) Star-Progress, 18 May 1921, p. 2.

Some critics might assert that while, yes, the word “Cajun” did exist in abundance between the 1860s and the late 1960s, it was never used as an ethnic label, only as classist term for all poor white French-speakers regardless of ethnicity. Such classist usage does exist in the historical record, but so do many clear instances of Cajun as an ethnic label. An 1898 source, for example, described Cajuns as the descendants of the exiled Acadians; an 1881 source called them the native descendants of those worthy Acadian exiles; and so on. Thus, to assert that Cajun was never used early on as an ethnic label is false. See T. W. Poole, Some Late Words about Louisiana (New Orleans: E. Marchand, 1889), 26; George E. Waring Jr. and George W. Cable, History and Present Condition of New Orleans, Louisiana: Social Statistics of Cities, Tenth Census of the United States (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1881), 10.

A 1955 ad for a New Iberia restaurant:
“Cajun ethnicity did not suddenly materialize
from nothingness after CODOFIL’s birth in 1968.”
Source: author's collection.

Regarding this same topic of Cajun ethnicity, historian Carl A. Brasseaux notes, Eighteenth-century writers — and mainstream historians of the past 150 years — have clearly established that the French colonists of the Bay of Fundy Basin had forged a new, collective ethnic identity as Acadians long before their expulsion from Canada in 1755. . . . During the ensuing years of exile and wandering, the Acadians were universally regarded by their reluctant hosts as a distinct people with a common ethnic identity. That identity clearly remained intact after successive waves of surviving Acadians made their way to Louisiana between 1764 and 1788. At the time of their arrival and for decades afterward, the exiles' ethnicity was clearly and unequivocally recognized by established Louisianians, including proto-Creoles, who clearly viewed the immigrants as the 'other'. Indeed, as low-class, insolent, and often combative interlopers. The resulting acrimonious relationship between the two groups, based on socio-economic, linguistic, cultural differences and divergent, incompatible world views remained intact as the two groups evolved and matured side-by-side in southern Louisiana over the following two-and-a-half centuries. Ethnic identities remained stable even as ethnic labels changed in response to the region's evolving general linguistic landscape, in which Acadien (ca. 1764) morphed into Cadien (ca. 1770-ca. 1850), and, finally, Cajun (ca. 1850). . . . Contemporary writers clearly recognized that the two communities were separate and distinct throughout this evolutionary process. This does not mean that, after centuries of evolutionary adaptation to the same physical and cultural landscapes, there were not similarities. . . .” Carl A. Brasseaux, Lafayette, La., to Shane K. Bernard, New Iberia, La., 9 May 2022, email correspondence in the possession of Shane K. Bernard.

(5) Nor is it a case of “Cajuns” suddenly “becoming White” in 1968 or thereafter. With very few exceptions (and there are a few), historical primary-source documents refer to the Cajuns and their Acadian ancestors as “White.” See Bernard, “Cajuns and ‘Whiteness,’” blog article.

Those asserting a recent Cajun ethnogenesis fondly quote an anonymous Creole elder of Breaux Bridge who once averred, “We were called Creoles before this Cajun business” — as though this statement, subject to interpretation, were a self-evident absolute truth, unopposed by various other sources, including the memories of the Cajun people themselves. (The “we” in this quotation has been variously interpreted to mean either “Creoles of African descent” or, more broadly, “all Creoles, regardless of skin color or heritage.” Rendered in its original tongue, the statement is “On s’appelait des Creoles avant cette affaire de Cadjin.”)

See Trépanier, “Cajunization,” 167.

(6) Jacques Henry, “From Acadien to Cajun to Cadien: Ethnic Labelization and Construction of Identity,” Journal of American Ethnic History 17 (Summer, 1998): 29-62.

(7) Minutes, CODOFIL Meeting, 27 October 1968, TD, Clyde L. Rougeou Papers, University of Louisiana at Lafayette Archives, Dupré Library, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Lafayette, La 

(8) Barry Jean Ancelet, Scott, La., to Shane K. Bernard, New Iberia, La., 6 May 2022, email correspondence in the possession of Shane K. Bernard.

(9) Shane K. Bernard, The Cajuns: Americanization of a People (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003), 126-27.

(10) Barry Jean Ancelet, “From Evangeline Hot Sauce to Cajun Ice: Signs of Ethnicity in South Louisiana,” Louisiana Folklore Miscellany, 1996, reprinted on Folklife in Louisiana,, accessed 30 April 2022; Bernard, Americanization, 113.

(11) Bernard, Americanization, 112-13.

(12) Mayeux, “Language Revitalization,” 146. One should not, like Mayeux, confuse CODOFIL president James R. Domengeaux [1907–1988] with his extant nephew James H. Domengeaux [1959–]. It was the latter, the nephew, who wrote the Louisiana Law Review article “Native-Born Acadians and the Equality Ideal,” which asserted that pre-existing state and federal laws protect Cajuns from ethnic discrimination. See James Harvey Domengeaux, “Native-Born Acadians and the Equality Ideal,” Louisiana Law Review 46 (July 1986): 1151-1195, accessible at

According to Ancelet, CODOFIL president James R. Domengeaux actually had no middle name, but at some point began to be attributed as “James R. Domengeaux,” which had in fact been his father’s name (the middle initial standing for “Rudolph”). James Domengeaux obituary, 12 April 1988, “United States, GenealogyBank Obituaries, 1980-2014,”,, accessed 1 May 2022; Barry Jean Ancelet, Scott, La., to Shane K. Bernard, New Iberia, La., 27 April 2022, email correspondence in the possession of Shane K. Bernard.

(13) Bernard, Americanization, 88-89, 98-99.

(14) Minutes, CODOFIL Meeting; Barry Jean Ancelet, Scott, La., to Shane K. Bernard, New Iberia, La., 20 April 2022, email correspondence in the possession of Shane K. Bernard; Barry Jean Ancelet, Scott, La., to Shane K. Bernard, New Iberia, La., 26 April 2022, email correspondence in the possession of Shane K. Bernard.

(15) Bernard, Americanization, 58, 74, 77.

(16) Barry Jean Ancelet, Scott, La., to Shane K. Bernard, New Iberia, La., 5 May 2022, email correspondence in the possession of Shane K. Bernard.

(17) Bernard, Americanization, 87.

(18) Carl A. Brasseaux, The Founding of New Acadia: The Beginnings of Acadian Life in Louisiana, 1765-1803 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987), 176; Shields McIlwaine, The Southern Poor-White from Lubberland to Tobacco Road (Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1939), 143 (italics added for the French canaille).

I do not touch in the main text on Creole-on-Creole classism, a form of discrimination Brasseaux mentions, much less Creole enslavement of other Creoles — including Creoles of African descent enslaving other Creoles of African descent. For discussion of Creole-on-Creole classism, see Carl A. Brasseaux, Acadian to Cajun: Transformation of a People, 1803-1877 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992), 151-52; Carl A. Brasseaux, French, Cajun, Creole, Houma: A Primer on Francophone Louisiana (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005), 102-3, 104-5. For discussion of Creole enslavement of Creoles, see Shane K. Bernard, Teche: A History of Louisiana’s Most Famous Bayou (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2016), 66; Carl A. Brasseaux, Keith P. Fontenot, and Claude F. Oubre, Creoles of Color in the Bayou Country (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994), 71-2, passim.

In 2014 one scholar observed, "[I]t is worth noting that many Creoles of Color consider themselves socially superior to Cajuns. And the French of New Orleans (who are often called white Creoles or simply Creoles), they think themselves superior to Creoles of Color and also Cajuns. Several elderly informants have also told me that some years ago—around the 1940s—the New Orleans French and the Creoles of Color both refused to socialize with Cajuns." James Etienne Viator, "Kreyol-Ye, Kaden-Ye, e Lalwa a Langaj dan Lalwizyann [Creoles, Cajuns, and Law and Language in Louisiana]," Loyola Law Review 60 (2014): 294.

Brasseaux's 1992 study
of Cajun ethnicity.

(19) “Louisiana Is White,” The (Phoenix, Ariz.) Arizona Republican, 19 August 1901, 1.

(20) “Louisiana Acadians,” The Paducah Daily Sun, 26 January 1898, 2; see also “The 'Cajuns' of Louisiana,” The Indianapolis Journal, 28 January 1898, 7.

(21) George A. Hurd, “The Louisiana of Cable,” The Yale Literary Magazine, April 1889, 307.

(22) George E. Waring Jr. and George W. Cable, History and Present Condition of New Orleans, Louisiana: Social Statistics of Cities, Tenth Census of the United States (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Interior/U.S. Government Printing Office, 1881), 10.

(23) Fredrik Barth, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference (Waveland Press, 1998), 15.

(24) Mayeux, “Language Revitalization,” 147.

(25) The 2020 national count for persons identifying in whole or part as “Cajun” was 107,553.

In the late 1980s, however, Brasseaux estimated Louisiana’s Cajun population at 500,000 to 700,000 — figures that approximate the findings of the 1990 census, in which 432,549 Louisianians and 668,271 persons nationwide (including Louisiana) identified their heritage as “Acadian.” (I cite the 1990 U.S. Census here because it is the census whose data I analyzed for my 2000 dissertation, which became my 2003 Americanization book.)

For the purposes of this article, however, I adhere to the more conservative 2020 estimate, which counted respondents specifically identifying as “Cajun” (not “Acadian” as with the 1990 census).

“Cajun,” People Reporting Ancestry, 2020: American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates Detailed Tables (B04006), Total U.S. Population,, accessed 2 May 2021; Brasseaux, Founding of New Acadia, 1; 1990 U.S. Census of Population; Barry Jean Ancelet, Scott, La., to Shane K. Bernard, New Iberia, La., 11 April 2022, email correspondence in the possession of Shane K. Bernard.