Iry 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’.
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.