Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"War Widow Waltz" - Lee Sonnier

Joseph Denton "Jay" Miller was no stranger to the music industry.   He was able to find many musicians to record after the war.   He himself was a musician as well.  He recalls:
I've always been interested in music. As a youngster, I played in a local band.  When I was 13 years old, I won a Lake Charles Talent contest singing Huey Long's song "Every Man A King".  I was terrible, but I won so you can imagine how bad the competition was".5  
The prize for winning the talent contest was a one year contract to air a 15-minute weekly radio program on KPLC in Lake Charles for $5 per week which Miller said "seemed like a fortune".

By 1946, he began recording hillbilly music alongside Cajun music.  Miller's biggest Cajun recording success during the 1950's was the "War Widow Waltz" (#1018) by father-in-law Livaudais "Lee" Sonnier and his Acadian Stars on Jay's second label, Feature.  Besides Laura Broussard's vocal, the record's highlights were Sonnier's classically perfect accordion playing and the "cowboy" steel-guitar accompaniment.   In fact, it's not quite known who the steel player is.  While Atlas Fruge claimed for years to be the first steel guitarist in accordion-led Cajun music after the war, few people know that it's Lee's unknown steel guitar player rightfully holds this honor.   It's possible Freeman Hanks is on guitar and Louis Miller on fiddle.

O yé yaie mon mari z'il est parti, 

Il est parti pour se battre pour notre pays, 

Hé yéyaie, mais, regardez donc moi je prends ça dur, 

Ouais c'est pas de connaitre si jamais il va revenir.                                

ça, ça me fait du mal c'est d'entendre mes petits enfants, 

Tout le temps après pleurer et demander pour leur papa. 

Hé, yéyaie, mais eux peuvent pas comprendre, 

Pourquoi leur papa mais s'en revient plus nous rejoindre nous autre. 

O yéyaie moi, je prie au bon Dieu, 

De t'envoyer et rejoindre nous autre avant longtemps,
Comment, toi, tu crois, que je peux consoler mes petits enfants,
Avec mes larmes dans mes yeux, avec mon cœur aussi cassé.
Freeman Hanks, Willis Miller,
Doug Higganbotham, Lee Sonnier,
Laura Brouassard, Rita Broussard

Image courtesy of Johnnie Allan & the 
Center for Louisiana Studies, 
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
It was a version of Ardoin's "La Valse de Amitié" recorded back in 1934 in San Antonio for Bluebird. Around the same time Lee was recording his tune, Iry Lejeune re-used the same melody for his "Calcasieu Waltz".  The recording's female vocalist, Laura Broussard, a relative and bandmate of Aldus "Popeye" Broussard who performed with Lawrence Walker at the 1936 National Folk Festival, sang to Cajun widows who experienced the myriad of conflicting emotions.

Jay "J.D." Miller

J.D. recalls the recording:
"The War Widow Waltz" had a woman singing on it, Laura Broussard. I don't know what she had but I've seen women crying listening to it on a jukebox, so it must have been pretty strong.  And I'd give anything if I had the master. The masters we had, the stampers were lost when a pressing plant burned in Los Angeles.1
Only one can imagine the heartbreak that lonely Cajun widows suffered after realizing their husbands would never come back home to their families. 

Oh my, my husband is gone,

He went to fight for our country,

Hey, ye yaille, well, look at me, I'm taking this hard,

Yeh, its not knowing if he will come back.

That this hurts to hear my small children,

Crying all the time and asking for their dad,

Hey, ye yaille, well, they can not understand,

Why their daddy went back to never return to us again.

Oh, ye yaille, I pray to God,

To come back and return to us before too long,
How can you believe I'll ever console my children,
With tears in my eyes, with my heart too broken.
This honky tonk mix of bouncy accordion, smooth steel guitar and fiddle, soul-wrenching vocals, and drums on the beat would come to define the post-war Cajun sound that launched so many careers.4  According to Jared M:
[Lee Sonnier] has a simple and clean style, but it's always solid and just enough to fit the song perfectly. He has an almost percussive sound that I like and the band is excellent. Thank goodness his daughter married a pioneering record producer!4  

  1. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  2. Cajun Breakdown : The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  3. http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/miller_and_soileau.html
  4. Discussions with Jared M
  5. Interview with J.D. Miller. By Stacey Courville. Crowley Post Signal. 1983.
  6. "Acadian All Star Special" by Bear Records
  7. Lyrics by Stephane F

Fais Do Do Breakdown - Volume One - The Late 1940's (Flyright, 1986)
Acadian All Star Special - The Pioneering Cajun Recordings Of J.D. Miller (Bear, 2011)


  1. Laura Broussard was my paternal grandmother. I would love to find an original of this record and gift it to my dad.

    1. I'll be on the lookout for a copy. If I run across one, I'll let you know.

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