Efforts are underway to honor one of Louisiana’s most influential recording artists, Amédé Ardoin (1898–1941) a Creole musician who merits a biographical entry in KnowLA, The Digital Encyclopedia of Louisiana (knowla.org). Ardoin was a seminal but mysterious figure in Louisiana history, and he remains something of an enigma since he met an unfortunate fate in the last years of his life as an incarcerated mental patient at Central Louisiana Hospital in Pineville.
Former state poet laureate Darrell Bourque recently published a collection of inverted sonnets dedicated to Ardoin, entitled If you abandon me, comment je vas faire: An Amédé Ardoin Songbook, selections of which will appear in the Fall 2014 edition of Louisiana Cultural Vistas.
Before his untimely death and burial in an undocumented grave at the state asylum, Ardoin made a profound impact upon Cajun music and zydeco before those classifications of music even came into being. The pioneering performer is thought to have grown up in the countryside between Eunice and Basile, and his family regarded him with mixed feelings because he refused to do farmwork or manual labor, instead relying upon his musical performances for income. Ardoin performed with white musicians at a time of Jim Crow segregation, but ironically it was a racial incident that led to his tragic demise. Around 1939 he was severely beaten after a white woman wiped his face with her handkerchief. Mentally incapacitated from the attack, Ardoin spent the rest of his life in state care.
Family and friends of Ardoin have attempted to get information on the exact site of the musician’s grave in the former “Negro section” of the hospital’s cemetery, but no records have been found. Admirers of his music have recently begun a campaign under the auspices of the NUNU Arts and Culture Collaborative in Arnaudville to place a public memorial in Ardoin’s community to honor his life and his immense contribution to Louisiana’s musical heritage. A portion of the proceeds from Bourque’s book (available here) will be donated to the effort to realize such a public commemorative. For more information on the Ardoin memorial effort, visit www.nunucollective.org.