CAROLA LILLIE HARTLEY
With additional information from the St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission
Featured Photograph: Clifton Chenier at the 1987 Southwest Zydeco Music Festival, just a few months before he died. (Photograph Courtesy of Wilbert Guillory with Southern Development Foundation, 1988.)
Opelousas native Clifton Chenier is known as the King of Zydeco music.
Born on a farm near Opelousas on June 25, 1925, Clifton often recalled hearing his father Joseph Chenier play accordion at many area dances. As a young man he learned to play that instrument.
During the decades of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, his popularity grew, and so did the popularity of the Zydeco music that he played all around the world. He grew to be one of the best known musicians to come from Louisiana.
In 1984, Clifton Chenier received a Grammy Award for his album, “I’m Here,” making him the first Creole in history to receive this award on National television. He later earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys. Chenier died on December 12, 1987. The report of his death made national news.
Chenier’s wake was held in Opelousas, with thousand of people from Louisiana and other parts of the US in attendance. His funeral service was in Lafayette, and he was laid to rest in Parks, LA.
For years following his death, the music he made famous continued to grow in popularity. Today it is one of Louisiana’s best known sounds.
In 2000, the Louisiana State Legislature designated Chenier’s hometown of Opelousas as the Zydeco Music Capital of the World. In 2021, June 25 was declared Clifton Chenier Day in the state by the Louisiana state legislature.
The St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission will pay a tribute to Clifton Chenier on June 25, 2022, which is his birthday, and the day set to honor him in Louisiana.
Corey Ledet hosts special jam session to honor the King of Zydeco
Two-time Grammy nominee Corey Ledet leads the Tribute to Clifton Chenier set for 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. June 25 at the St. Landry Parish Visitor Center, I-49 exit 23, in Opelousas. The tribute is part of the Zydeco Capital Jam, monthly jam sessions open to players of all skill levels.
This special tribute falls on Clifton Chenier Day, which was declared last year in the state of Louisiana, along with St. Landry Parish and Chenier’s hometown of Opelousas. Chenier, the “King of Zydeco” who earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys, was born June 25, 1925.
The Clifton Chenier Centennial Committee formed last year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Chenier’s birth in 2025. The committee secured the Clifton Chenier Day proclamations, which remain in effect for the next three years.
Ledet is a Chenier disciple who sharpened his accordion skills during several visits to Chenier’s gravesite in Loreauville. Ledet earned Grammy nominations for his 2021 CD, “Corey Ledet Zydeco,” and his 2012 album, “Nothin’ but the Best.” Accordionists Anthony Dopsie, Dwayne Dopsie and Andre Thierry perform as special guests on the 2012 release.
For more information, visit the St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission web site at cajuntravel.com.