Cajun accordion player Eddie LeJeune died Tuesday following a heart attack. He was 49.
Born in Ardoin Cove, Louisiana, in 1951, Eddie LeJeune was the son of the legendary Iry LeJeune, whose accordion style and repertoire permeated the French-language music performed by the Louisiana descendents of Acadiana in Canada. Like his father, Eddie LeJeune was an intensely emotional performer, one of the last to emerge from the traditional Cajun circuit of house parties and dances.
"Eddie represented the last of the authentic dance-hall style," said Ann Savoy, author of "Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People" and guitarist in the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band. "He had a unique singing style, and he was pretty young to have that wonderful high vocal style, which came from singing in loud places with no amplification. Accordion keys are pitched high; if you sing low, you won't be heard."
"I first heard him at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival with my friend Hazel Dickens, a singer," said Ken Irwin, who produced all of LeJeune's recordings. "We were watching Dewey Balfa [a fiddling contemporary of Iry], and Dewey said, 'Here's a tune by our accordion player.' As soon as Eddie opened his mouth our jaws dropped in disbelief."
He recorded three albums — Cajun Soul (1989), It's in the Blood (1991), which includes "Grand Bosco" (RealAudio excerpt), and Cajun Spirit (1998) — with his hometown band, the Morse Playboys (guitarist Hubert Maitre and fiddler Terry Huval). He also recorded Le Trio Cadien (1992) with guitarist D. L. Menard and fiddler Ken Smith.
For all his talent, LeJeune was more widely appreciated in Europe, where he was considered "world music," than in the United States, where his music was confined to the commercial ghetto of "regional" styles.
"We discussed his reaching a broader audience," Irwin said. "But he would never play with drums or bass. He enjoyed the balance and purity of the accordion, guitar, fiddle and occasional triangle."
LeJeune reportedly suffered his heart attack while working on a construction job near his home. He also was a professional mechanic and owned a tire shop in Morse. "He was from the school of hard knocks," Savoy said. "But he was a kind, honorable and hard-core Cajun preservationist."
"What he did was what he felt," Irwin said, "and he felt very deeply. I saw him at the Kent State Folk Festival, and tears were just coming down his cheeks as he sang. You just don't see that many musicians who can feel so deeply and communicate it."