The name of the celebrated Cajun band BeauSoleil translates as “beautiful sunshine.” It is also a tribute to Beausoleil Broussard, the 18th-century leader of the Acadian resistance against the British. The band’s name is symbolic of their music—deeply rooted in Cajun tradition, while pushing the limits of the genre. For nearly half a century, they have built a foundation on waltzes, two-steps, soulful Cajun French lyrics, hot fiddling, and irresistible accordion, and then added innovative accents of blues, New Orleans R&B, and more.
Louisiana’s Cajuns descend from French-speaking Acadians who settled in Nova Scotia in 1604. Uprooted by the British in 1755, they were forced to sail south; many survivors of the voyage settled in the bayous and prairies of Southwest Louisiana. In this refuge, a distinctive Cajun culture emerged, blending French and Acadian music with the sounds of their new neighbors: Native American, Spanish, and German, as well as French Creoles of African descent. Traditionally, the fiddle was the central instrument, to be joined by the accordion in the late 1800s. In the 20th century came influences from country and western, as well as blues, creating the music emblematic of Cajun culture today.
BeauSoleil reflects the vision of Michael Doucet, who has spent much of his life delving into the origins of Cajun music. The music was “all around” when Doucet was growing up, “but it was just there,” he recalls. “We didn’t really think about it.” While Michael played trumpet in grade school, he did not take up fiddle until his twenties, in 1974. The next year he founded BeauSoleil, and also received a Folk Arts Apprenticeship in Cajun fiddle from the National Endowment of the Arts. “I had planned to go to graduate school in New Mexico to study the Romantic poets,” he explains. “Instead I traded William Blake for Dewey Balfa.” He proceeded to study with every living Cajun legend he could find, including master fiddlers Dennis McGee and Canray Fontenot, and searched out unaccompanied ballad singers as well as rare 78-rpm recordings. Michael once said, “If I was going to play Cajun music, I wanted to play it right. And if I was going to change Cajun music, I had to be sure of the direction.” For his contributions to Cajun culture, Doucet was honored with a National Heritage Fellowship in 2005, the nation’s highest honor for traditional artists. He received a United States Artists Fellowship in 2007.
While Michael takes the lead, the other members of BeauSoleil are integral to the group’s sound. David Doucet, Michael’s brother, is a soulful singer and an exceptional guitarist who is credited with making the acoustic guitar central to modern Cajun music. Newest member Chad Huval plays pungent accordion while Billy Ware’s percussion and Tommy Alesi’s drums drive the band. Mitch Reed, a master Cajun musician and instructor who has been performing with some of the greatest names in Cajun music since he was a teenager, rounds out the group on bass and second fiddle.
BeauSoleil been involved with over 30 recording projects, including award-winning movie soundtracks. They were the first Cajun band to win a Grammy® Award, in 1998 (they have since added a second), and in 2011 they were inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. They have performed worldwide, and represented Cajun music on popular programs like HBO’s Treme, Austin City Limits, and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. BeauSoleil is rightly called “the best Cajun band in the world.”