Introduction: “A Wild and Ferocious Waltz”
This book about music is also a story about looking, observing, and perception. It tells the story of the manner in which the collectors, advocates, and patrons of French Louisiana music saw its traditions and performers in the context of social, political, and cultural debates in the United States from the mid-1920s to the early 1970s. It is about the outsider’s gaze as it fell on a regional culture, and the insights and misperceptions of ethnomusicologists and commercial promoters as they struggled to understand a regional music that appeared to exist on the outskirts of American musical culture and outside the traditional scope of folk and popular music scholarship. French Louisiana music, a harmonically simplistic, ballad-based music that developed on the bayous and prairies of Southwest Louisiana in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is dissonant, raucous, exuberant and haunting, and although Southwest Louisianans listened to and performed a whole range of musical genres and styles, including jazz, blues, and country, old-time French-language music was a unique cultural expression of the region and played a powerful and enduring role in rural community life.
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