Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"Mayor of Bayou Pom Pom" - Walter Coquille

An article about one of the earliest Cajun humor recordings. Although it's not music, it's important to note it's existence among the other pre-war recordings of the culture.

(NOTE: Material borrowed from Pierre Partout)

Walter Coquille was the originator of the beloved fictional character Telesfore Boudreaux who was Mayor of the fictional south Louisiana settlement of Bayou Pom-Pom.  Coquille thrilled thousands for 30 years with his stories of life in rural south Louisiana.

He was born in 1886 in the small rural community of Smoke Bend, Louisiana which sits along the Mississippi River in Ascension Parish.  He was the youngest of seven children born to Robert Coquille and Alice Roberson.  His grandfather immigrated from France and settled in St. James Parish.  His family moved to New Orleans when he was young and Walter attended St. Alyosius.  After his father's death in 1900, his mother ran a boarding house.  According to the 1910 census, the extended family lived under the same roof along with several boarders.  He married Jeannette Phelps in 1910 and started his career as a bank clerk, but later joined the Royal Typewriter Company rising to position of manager in the 1930s. 
Fernand Remanjon, Walter Coquille,
Mrs. Edna Bourg Coquille,
Mrs. Noelie Coquille Coerver

His travels as a salesman took him throughout Louisiana's bayou country, where he fell in love with the people of his youth and became fascinated with the Cajun dialect.  More than likely Coquille's avocation was influenced by his brother-in-law, Fernand Remanjon, whom he lived with in New Orleans.  Remanjon, a native of France, married Walter's sister, Nellie.  Remanjon worked as a travelling salesman for a drug store in New Orleans, work which took him through the countryside of south Louisiana.  Remanjon saw the uniqueness of the Cajun people and shared his stories with Walter.

Walter's mother, Alice, passed away in 1927, a couple of years before publishing his first book, "The Mayor of Bayou Pom-Pom.  He gained popularity from his columns, books, and the song, "Eh La Bas". He published his first book, "The Mayor of Bayou Pom-Pom," in 1929.   His first recordings of his "Creole monologue" were with Brunswick  (#319).  In March, he recorded a two-part series of humor using the same book title.   By September, he headed back to New Orleans and recorded part 3 through part 6, however, Brunswick only released 3 and 4, one about traffic and the other about hunting (#359). 
Abbeville Meridional
Mar 15, 1930

Telesfore Boudreaux, Bayou Pom Pom's mayor, kept Coquille quite busy with speaking engagements.  The Thibodaux Daily Comet reprinted a letter from beloved Mayor Boudreaux accepting an invite to speak at the Houma chamber of commerce.  The letter is signed by "le maire" with a mark "X" but witnessed by Coquille.  By the end of 1930, he recorded two more records, continuing his series about the mayor, one record entitled "The Re-Election Of The Mayor Of Bayou Pom Pom" (#494) and "The Surprise Party Of The Mayor Of The Bayou Pom Pom" (#591).  

In 1938, he followed it up with "The Mayor of Bayou Pom-Pom Speak's," which was reprinted 1954.  His song writing is limited to a translation of "Eh La Bas," but it furthered his authenticity. Many versions of "Eh La Bas" have been recorded over the years.  Originally sung in with Creole lyrics, it was later translated to French and English.  Danny Barker sings a version of the song.

Coquille died November 22, 1957 after a long illness.  Announcement of his death was carried in newspapers throughout the country.  His friends remarked that he told more free stories than he was ever paid for.

His columns can be found in the Loyola University Maroon. 

Walter Coquille


Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 5: The Early Years (1928-1938) (Old Timey, 1973)

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