Exotic folk: old-time French Louisiana music and the politics of culture, 1946-1973
Peknik, Patricia Jean
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This dissertation examines the mid-twentieth century "revival" of the old-time French-language music of Southwestern Louisiana in order to illuminate changing ideas about race, identity, and culture in post-World War II and Civil Rights era America. Rather than being simply an overlooked element of the national folk revival movement, the Cajun-Creole music revival was a larger phenomenon with a broader social and political context, promoted by local, state, national and international actors. The French government conceived of the music revival as one aspect of a global French language movement. National folklorists used the music to prompt conversations on race relations and social justice. Local actors sought to reassert the value of traditional culture in an economically and demographically diversifying region. Ultimately, under the stresses of the ethnic revival movement, Cajun-Creole music, which had been developed by black and white musicians over centuries of collaboration, cohabitation, and sympathetic engagement, split into two genres as Creoles began to identify with urban African-American culture and Cajuns became caught up in the rhetoric of ethnic identity. Chapter 1 chronicles the role Cajun-Creole music played in Southwest Louisiana culture in the early twentieth century. Chapter 2 argues that the French-speaking Louisianans who served in World War II played an instrumental role in reviving old-time music. Chapter 3 examines the work of the nationally and state-funded folklorists and commercial label scouts who, while doing fieldwork in Southwest Louisiana, found their long-held conceptions about folk music, race, and culture challenged in a more integrated and "foreign" part of the American South. Chapter 4 illuminates the role of the avant-garde artist Harry Smith in creating the folk revival of the 1960s and introducing a national to Cajun-Creole music. Chapter 5 looks at the Newport Folk Festival and the ethnomusicology fieldwork that put Cajun-Creole musicians on a national stage. Chapter 6 chronicles the history of the French language movement in Louisiana, arguing that the language revival of the 1960s was largely initiated and funded by international entities. Chapter 7 argues that the civil rights and ethnic identity movements ultimately split Cajun and Creole music into distinct genres.