Clifton Chenier - The Basics:
Clifton Chenier was born in Opelousas, Louisiana on June 25, 1925. He died on December 12, 1987 of complications from diabetes. In his lifetime, Clifton Chenier recorded dozens of zydeco music records and heavily influenced the overall sound of many genres of Louisiana music.
Clifton Chenier - The Early Years:
As a young musician, Clifton Chenier considered himself a blues artist more than a "French Music" artist (the universal term for both Cajun and Creole music at the time. He played a keyboard accordion, rather than the more common Cajun diatonic accordion, as it was more flexible for blues scales.
Clifton Chenier - Early Record Deals:
Clifton Chenier recorded albums for blues labels such as Elko Records and Chicago blues label Chess Records, garnering a few moderate regional hits. It was his discovery by Arhoolie Records owner Chris Strachwitz in 1964 that eventually brought Chenier to an international level of renown.
Clifton Chenier and Arhoolie Records:
Arhoolie's Chris Strachwitz was first introduced to Clifton Chenier by blues master Lightnin' Hopkins, who was Chenier's cousin by marriage. Strachwitz was already a fan of both Louisiana Cajun and Creole music and the country blues, so Chenier's progressive French blues were a natural fit. Arhoolie proceeded to release the majority of Clifton Chenier's recordings from that point on.
Clifton Chenier's Influence on Zydeco:
Clifton Chenier's blending of R&B with traditional Creole sounds were revolutionary, and he was essentially the first artist to record what is now known as zydeco music, thereby influencing every zydeco artist who would follow in his path. His use of a keyboard accordion, as well as instruments like the modified frottoir (musical washboard) and saxophone in his band, made an appealing blend of folk and modern sounds which paved the way for similar experimentation ever since.
Clifton Chenier - Awards and Honors:
- 1982 - Grammy Award, I'm Here
- 1984 - National Heritage Fellowship
- 1989 - Blues Hall of Fame Inductee