Monday, March 12, 2018

The Amédé Ardoin Project

Amédé Ardoin
sculpture
Several hundred people honored Amédé Ardoin at the St. Landry Parish Visitor Center yesterday afternoon when a statue of this pioneer Creole musician, created by Sculptor Russell Whiting, was unveiled. The beautiful statue, made of carved steel in which Whiting used an oxy-gasoline torch, was inspired by the only known photograph of the talented La-La and Zydeco musician. It shows Ardoin standing on his accordion and holding a lemon that refers to the musician’s habit of carrying a lemon in his pocket to keep his high-pitched voice clear and strong.

Ardoin grew up near Eunice and Mamou and often played his accordion and sang for dances as a teenager. After joining up with the fiddler Dennis McGee, he made some of the earliest recordings from Acadiana for Columbia records, a total of 30 recordings. Stories of his death vary, but the best-known version is a tragic one that tells of a summer night when Ardoin performed for a barn dance somewhere in St. Landry parish, and a white woman handed him a handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his face. Following the dance, he was beaten and run over many times by a Model A Ford driven by white men who objected to his exchange with the white woman. He was discovered lying in a ditch the following day and later admitted to the State mental hospital in Pineville, Louisiana where he died on November 3, 1942. He was buried in an unmarked grave.

A woman who was standing next to me at the unveiling told me that she was attending the commemorative ceremony because she felt that the event honoring Ardoin was a form of justice, and she had come to the Visitors Center to support the cause. The speakers included former poet laureate Darrell Bourque and Patricia Cravens who were prime movers of the Amédé Ardoin Project, a project that will continue to include a scholarship initiative supporting young artists who wish to study with Louisiana La-La and Zydeco musicians.
Russell Whiting, sculptor,
at the unveiling

Russell Whiting says of his Ardoin commemorative that he found the photograph of Ardoin endearing and identified with him as an artist who wanted his creations to survive. Whiting began his career as a metal worker in the oil industry, and his highly original work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. in private and public sculpture gardens. 

Poet Bourque displayed his book, if you abandon me, comment je vas faire, An Amédé Ardoin Songbook, published by Yellow Flag Press and now in its twelfth printing. He invited the audience to donate $10 for the book, which will support the Amédé Ardoin Project and urged communities and individuals to plant a lemon tree or grove in honor of Ardoin. Information about the lemon tree project can be obtained at darrellbourque@gmail.com or patriciacravins@gmail.com.

Although a few dark clouds hovered over the event, the rain did not fall on the unveiling, and Amédé Ardoin was “brought home” during a silent, respectful moment, followed by a celebratory Bal de Dimache Apres Midi.

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan




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