Meus Lafleur was born August 14, 1906 and six months later in February 1907, his mother abandoned her husband and infant son. According to historian Par Pascal, Meus’ father brought his infant son to live with Meus’ grandmother, who was a widow and living near Ville Platte.
Leo Soileau was a childhood friend of Meus and a distant relative, who also played the violin. Meus played the accordion and sang. While growing up, together they played in a number of house dances and dance halls. After he got married, Meus’ in-laws didn’t approve of his long absences playing music in dance halls and fais-do-dos and being away from their daughter and grandson. They finally told Meus to leave, causing hardship and his wife's separation.
|Dietlein Jewelry Store, 1920s|
Carola Lillie Hartley Historic Photo Collection
In 1928, Lafleur and Soileau traveled to Atlanta Georgia and recorded four songs for Victor Records. According to author Tony Russell, Leo was introduced to a Victor agent (most likely Ralph Peer), by Frank Dietlein, an jewelry store owner from Opelousas, Louisiana who also sold records on the side. They were not the first Cajun musicians to record their music; they were second. The honor of being first went to Joe Falcon from Rayne, who earlier in the same year recorded “Allons A Lafayette” (Let’s Go to Lafayette) for Columbia Records.
On October 17th, they arrived in Atlanta and the following morning, Soileau and LaFleur were escorted to an improvised studio that doubled as a Ku Klux Klan meeting room. Peer had Jimmie Rodgers recording in the same building that day. The four sides waxed during this historic session represented Leo Soileau and Meus LaFleur's first recordings. Seated underneath Victor's dangling microphone, LaFleur performed for the first time publicly "Mama, Where You At?" (#21769). Also known as "Chere Mam" or "Hey Mom", the tune expresses LaFleur's wish to see his mother one more time before he dies, inasmuch as LaFleur's mother had abandoned him when he was an infant. On the first take Meus started singing, then broke down sobbing. A few minutes later, on the second take Meus was able to control his emotions and that was the version used.2
Oh Mam, et où toi t'es,
Chère Mam, comment ça se fait
Que jamais je te voir encore,
Chère Mam, et où toi t'es ?
Hey Mam, comment ç'fait
J'ai jamais eu des nouvelles,
De toi, chère maman,
J'voudrais t'voir, ye ya yaille.
Hey yaille, Maman,
J'voudrais t'voir quand même,
Une fois avant d'mourir,
Chère Mam, Oh ye yaille.
Hey Mam, moi j'prend ça dur,
D'pas t'avoir jamais vue
Ye yaille, chère Maman,
Laisse-moi te r'voir une fois.Hey, ye yaille,Ya yaille , chère Maman,Comment ç'fait,Que moi j'su comme ça ?Hey yaille, chéri,Viens vite mon……..,Me voir ma chère Maman,La première fois moi j'va la voir.Oh Mam, prépare-toi,Ton nèg' est passé t'voir,Oh m'mam, 'gardez donc,Viens voir quoi c'est y a eu.
Meus LaFleur and Leo Soileau also recorded “Grand Basile,” “La Valse Criminelle,” (The Criminal Waltz) which was composed by Meus. “Ton Papa Ma Jeter Dehors,” (Your Father threw me out) obviously singing about how his ex-father-in-law threw Meus off the property, which he had given to him and his wife. And “Mom, Et ou Toi T’est?” (“Mom, where are you?”). Meus and Leo were each paid $25 for every song recorded. Meus told Leo he would use the $100 to find his mother.
Unbeknownst to anyone, Meus dealt with a broken heart and wondered why his mother gives him up? When he sang “Chere Mam”, was it a premonition? Meus was shot and killed on October 28, 1928, just nine days after recording “Chere Mam.” Meus was only twenty-two years old.
Meus and Leo were playing at a honky-tonk in Basile, Louisiana, which was owned by Meus’ friend Alex Bellon when Kossuth Manual pulled a gun and shot Bellon several times. Bellon escaped outside and hid under a truck where he later died. Meus immediately ran to his friend’s side. Kossuth shot Meus, instantly killing him. Kossuth also shot at Leo Soileau, but missed because Leo quickly ducked back inside the honky-tonk bar.
By Rob Jones
Two months after the death of Meus, near Christmas 1928 Victor Records shipped several hundred records to local dealers for distributions. Meus’ nineteen-year-old estranged wife, Hazel, opened all the doors and windows in her house and continuously played Meus’ records at top volume for her parents to hear and fully appreciate the consequences of his actions.
Oh mom, where are you,
Dear mom, why is it
That I never see you anymore,
Dear mom, where are you?
Hey mom, how come
I never heard from,
You, dear mother,
I would like to see you, ya yaille
Ya yaille, mom,
I'd like to still see you
Once more before I die
Dear mom, oh, ye yaille.
Hey mom, I'm taking it hard,
Not seeing you
Ye yaille, dear mother,
Let me one more time.Hey, ye yaille,Ya yaille, dear mother,How comeYou knew I'd be this wayYe yaille, honey,Come quicklyI want to see my dear mother,For the first time I've seen herOh Mom, get ready,Your little boy has come to see youMom oh, look at this,Come see how I've gotten.
"Yaille" is a word that doesn't translate well or at all. It's possible origin is from the Spanish phrase "ah ya yaille" loosely meaning "Oh! Wow!" Sometimes it comes out as an exuberant yell. Other times, it conveyed a mixture of surprise, reproach, and resignation. In this context, it's definitely a cry of sorrow. Leo continued to play dances and picked up an occasional accordionist for recordings, however, he would eventually take a break until 1934 when he picked up music again. Amedie Breaux and his band would record for J.D. Miller's Feature label the song called "Hey Mom" in 1953.
According to the publication "The New Era" in Eunice, Lousiana:
"The voice of a dead man pierced the gloomy atmosphere of Second Street last Saturday morning, when a song recorded by Meus [sic] LaFleur, before his untimely death, thrilled hundreds of those who yet speak and understand the Acadian French. ... Tho those who had learned of his alleged murder, the song seemed to grasp their very heart strings, and some even wiped away tears which forced their way to the eyes of those sympathetic listeners, while others not so well informed were happy again for having heard a folk song of their nationality which had never been written but handed down from generation to generation.”
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- Photo courtesy of Carola Lillie Hartley Historic Photo Collection
Cajun Origins (Catfish, 2001)
Cajun Louisiane 1928-1939 (Fremeaux, 2003)
The Early Recordings of Leo Soileau (Yazoo, 2006)