Iry LeJeuneIry LeJeune is the man most responsible for making the accordion the lead instrument in modern Cajun music. In the 40s, when Western Swing music had led this regional variation of the Folk/Blues tradition in the direction of fiddles and banjos, Iry’s soulful virtuoso accordion playing took the music back to its 19th Century roots. Cajun music is a blend of French, African-American and Native American influences. Many French-descended people left the Nova Scotia region, which they called Arcadia, when English speaking people established domination in Canada, and they migrated in great numbers to Western Louisiana, bringing their accordion music with them. This ‘Arcadian’ became ‘Cajun’ when it mixed with Creole and Caribbean forms and Native American rhythms. Songs in French were outside the mainstream, and there was lot of crossover with emerging Blues music, which was known as ‘Zydeco’ in ‘black’ communities and ‘Cajun’ among ‘whites’.

Born in 1928 into a poor sharecropping family near Lafayette LA, Iry learned accordion from his father Agness. His cousin Angelas had made some Cajun records in the 20s, and taught the kid many traditional songs from his repertoire. Iry had plenty of time to practise as he was almost blind and unable to work in the fields, but he played every day to entertain his family and friends, and carefully studied the work of virtuoso player Amédé Arduin. Iry also earned some money playing at parties, but his music was not widely popular, as Cajun traditions, including the speaking of French, were being swamped by post-WWII culture. Iry was performing with fiddle player Floyd LeBlanc in 1948 when they cut their record ‘Love Bridge Waltz’ for the small Opera label in Houston. Iry’s weeping accordion and impassioned vocals touched the hearts of his Cajun people, sold in impressive numbers, and could be heard on every juke-box in the region.

Iry’s ‘Grand Nuit Special’;

Iry was invited to play on KPLC radio in Lake Charles, where DJ Eddie Shuler cut some masters with Iry when he realised how strong the response was to this traditional music, and then had them released on the Folk Star label. These records were very influential in putting the accordion at the centre of Cajun music, and sold in great numbers. Eddie got a deal with Goldband Records and built a studio in Lake Charles where he recorded Iry and his excellent band The Lacassine Playboys as they explored Iry’s phenomenal repertoire.

Iry LeJeune Discography
Iry’s technical mastery shines through on this fantastic 25 track compilation of pure Cajun magic.

CAJUN’S GREATEST- THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION.

Accordion players like Amédé Arduin and Lawrence Walker, who had first recorded in the 20s, and Nathan Abshire, who went on to lead a revival of the genre two decades later, all began to sell records too, but Iry’s plaintive, howling voice and complex playing outsold them all. Sadly, in 1955, Iry was killed by a speeding car at the age of 26.