Clifton Chenier


(June 25, 1925 – December 12, 1987)

Grammy winning Creole King Clifton Chenier shook up the blues with his accordion. You heard me right—blues accordion. You know you’re big when Mick Jagger cites you as a major influence. Zydeco dynamite Clifton was the baddest bluesman out of the bayou state. Zydeco’s a genre developed by Creole folks in southwestern Louisiana. It’s like a gumbo–a little bit of blues, a little bit of country, a little bit of sound all the bayou’s own. And it was made famous by Monsieur Chenier himself.

Clifton started his career in 1954 with a radical cover of Professor Longhair’s “Hey Little Girl.”And with that, totally revolutionized what could be done with his instrument. He’s also credited with re-inventing the washboard so it could hang off his shoulders, over his chest like a plate of armor. He called it “le vest frottoir”—washboard vest. It’s now one of the defining elements of Zydeco.

Basically, Clifton Chenier made Zydeco what it is. Pulled it out of Louisiana and put it on the map. Out of the bayou and into the mainstream. So much so that he was signed to Specialty records alongside Little Richard and Sam Cooke. And he crowned his long career with a Grammy in the 1980s. And thanks to Clifton, there was a whole category for Best Zydeco album. Let’s listen to him. Here’s Clifton’s most famous track. Could be Louisiana’s state song if you ask me. Certainly NoLa’s anthem. Bon Ton Roulet!

Clifton Chenier was born June 25, 1925 in Opelousas, Louisiana. He’s known as the “King of Zydeco,” a genre of music out of Southwestern Louisiana that blends blues, r&b and native Creole song. Chenier is probably the most famous zydeco stylist—and a key figure in the development of the music. A prodigious accordionist, he’s also credited with inventing “le vest froittoir”—the rubboard—a defining element of Zydeco. Chenier’s career began in 1954 and peaked in the 1980’s, when he won a Grammy for his album ‘I’m Here.’ Clifton Chenier toured the world extensively until his death in 1987.