By Darrell Bourque
Editor’s note: Darrell Bourque explores the life of Creole musician Amédé Ardoin (1898-1942) in a haunting collection of inverted sonnets titled if you abandon me, comment je vas faire: An Amédé Ardoin Songbook (Yellow Flag Press, 2014). Using imagination and historical research, Bourque delves into Ardoin, an influential but enigmatic artist.
Early records are sketchy but Ardoin’s birthdate is now believed to be March 11, 1898. Born to Thomas Ardoin and Aurelia Clint Ardoin, he grew up in the Eunice-Basile area. The family was but a generation removed from slavery. One census record shows Amédé listed as a farmer but his work was always directed to being a professional musician, a rarity at the time. Legendary Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee, his friend with whom he played and recorded, called Amédé Ardoin “une chanson vivant,” a living song.
Ardoin was beaten in a racial assault in 1939 and ultimately spent the last six months of his life as Case 13387 at the state mental institution in Pineville where he died on November 3, 1942. The same medical index card that gives his case number also indicates that he was buried in an unmarked grave in the Negro section of the hospital’s cemetery.
In recent years family and friends of Ardoin have attempted to get information on the exact site of the musician’s grave, but no records have been found. Admirers of his music have recently begun a campaign under the auspices of the NUNU Arts and Culture Collaborative in Arnaudville to place a public memorial in Ardoin’s community to honor his life and his immense contribution to Louisiana’s musical heritage. A portion of the proceeds from Bourque’s book will be donated to the effort to realize such a public commemorative. For more information on the Ardoin memorial effort, visit www.nunucollective.org.
Darrell Bourque, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of English at the University of Louisiana Lafayette (ULL) where he directed the interdisciplinary humanities program and served as the first Friends of the Humanities professor. He is a founding member of Narrative4, an international story exchange program, a member of the board at the Ernest J. Gaines Center at ULL and a former Louisiana Poet Laureate. The chapbook if you abandon me, comment je vas faire: An Amédé Ardoin Songbook is his ninth published collection.