Preserving Cajun Culture – The Record Newspapers
A previous column of “Down Life’s Highway” in “The Record” newspapers struck a chord with Sandra Cash. It touched her so much that she kept a copy of this column for over a year.
“Heavenly Cajuns – Who Will Fill Their Shoes” was the title of the column that appeared on March 18, 2020 in The Record Newspapers.
“That was the question my dad always asked,” Cash said.
Her father was a local Cajun music legend, Joe Bonsall. He and his band, “The Orange Playboys” recorded countless albums before his death at the age of 75 in 1996. They were inducted into the Cajun Music Hall of Fame in 1981.
The name Bonsall is not French, it is English. His ancestor was saved from a shipwreck off the coast of Louisiana according to family accounts. The survivor was adopted by the Cajuns, immersed himself in Acadian culture and fell in love with a local woman of French descent.
Bonsall was one of 11 children. He was born in Lake Arthur, La. He learned to play music at his mother’s knee. Theresia Theriot Bonsall was an accordionist.
“She was playing at home and dancing at the house on weekends around the turn of the century,” Cash said.
The family moved to Prairie View, which is now Bridge City, when Bonsall was a boy.
He fell in love with Mable Duhon of Vinton, Louisiana. And took up residence there. His “day job” was a mechanic for Shell Oil Co located on Blacks Bayou, Louisiana, but his weekends were reserved for his second great love-music.
According to Cash, his father founded his group “The Orange Playboys” in the 1950s.
“They have had huge success,” Cash said. “At one time, his recordings were selling more in Europe than in the United States.
Cash said his father never missed an opportunity to promote Cajun traditions by giving lectures in schools, accompanying Catholic Masses in French on the accordion, playing at music festivals, and “supporting always every young Cajun musician ”.
He worked tirelessly to promote and preserve this way of life through music.
For years he attended the Texas Folklife Festival in San Antonio as “King of the Accordion”. He would also attend the Octoberfest because the accordion is also a major instrument in German culture. It was there that he met Myron Floren, the band’s assistant director Lawrence Welk, also an accomplished accordionist.
“A lot of times I would come home for a music lesson at our house,” Cash said. “Dad would teach young and old the musical instrument of their choice.”
Bonsall played a variety of instruments including guitar, steel guitar, drums, violin, and accordion.
“I still have some of those instruments today, especially his favorite accordion, the German Sterling Accordion which was his mother’s and the one he used for many recordings,” Cash said.
“Every weekend there was music and dancing at Bailey’s, BO’s Sparkle, Rodair Club, Mecca, Circle Club and in too many places in Texas and Louisiana to name them,” said Cash. “It was his life and he loved her.”
This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Joe Bonsall. Cash will celebrate his father, the Orange Playboys and Cajun culture on Friday at the Orange Boat Club from 7 to 11 p.m. with Cajun musicians and a DJ playing Cajun music and Swamp Pop.
Although this is a private celebration, there is a public celebration of all things Acadian on Saturday in Port Arthur.
Gloria Pate, host of Cajun Heritage Fest, remembers Bonsall well.
“Joe Bonsall is best known for being a traditionalist of the Cajun musical genre. He played music as it was meant to be played and always blew up the floors from southwest Louisiana to southeast Texas,” he said. said Pate. “He and Mrs. Mabel were great friends.
Pate is one of those who carry on the legacy of promoting Cajun culture through her Internet radio show. The annual festival, which also helps keep the culture alive, is a fundraiser for the Southeast Texas Arts Council, which promotes art of all types, including music.
The Cajun Heritage Fest opens at the Carl Parker Multipurpose Center, 1800 Lakeshore Dr. at 10:30 p.m. on June 5th.
There will be music, food, dance competitions and crayfish races.
Wayne Toups and ZydeCajun is the headliner of the event. Other music for the day will be provided by Damon Troy & Louisiana Beat, Kevin Naquin & The Ossun Playboys, Leroy Thomas & the Zydeco Roadrunners, Donovan Bourque & Friends and Pincher Jam.
The Rev. Kevin Badeaux will open the party at 11 am with a prayer in French. A crayfish race for children is scheduled for 2 p.m. A Cajun waltz competition is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Tickets cost $ 25 and can be purchased online at CajunHeritageFest.com, in person at the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur or at the door.