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Clifton Chenier, King of the Cajun Accordion, Dies In Louisiana

December 13, 1987

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) _ Clifton Chenier, the ″King of Zydeco″ who inspired toot-tootin’ and foot stomping worldwide with his spirited Cajun accordion, has died at the age of 62.

Chenier, who was severely diabetic and had required weekly kidney dialysis, died Saturday at Lafayette General Hospital. A hospital spokeswoman said the cause had not yet been determined.

″He was the king of zydeco,″ said Lynn Boutin, manager of famed Mulate’s Restaurant in Breaux Bridge, La., a bayou hamlet and frequent stop for zydeco bands.

″Because of him, the movement is growing,″ Boutin said. ″There are other bands starting up, playing what Chenier first played - black Cajun music.″

Zydeco is thought to be a corruption of the French word ″haricot,″ from the Cajun expression about dancing - ″snap a bean.″ The music is a mix of blues, country, rock, Cajun waltzes and two-steps.

Despite his illness, Chenier had continued to record albums and perform on stage with his Red Hot Louisiana Band, most recently taking a swing through the Northeast.

Friends said Chenier was hospitalized shortly after returning.

He recorded more than 100 albums during his career, and was nominated for a Grammy Award last year for ″Live at the San Francico Blues Festival.″ He was nominated for a Grammy in 1979 as well.

Chenier recently toured in the Northeast and returned to his home just before Thanksgiving. Friends said he was hospitalized shortly after returning from the tour.

Chenier was born June 25, 1925 in Opelousas, La., the son of an accordion player. As a child, he heard both white and black Cajun musicians and later played music on weekends before moving in the mid-1950s to Houston, where he worked the dance halls.

He played the large piano accordion, a versatile instrument suited to blues in many keys. As Rockin’ Sidney, who recorded the hit song ″My Toot-Toot,″ once said, zydeco music requires an accordion.

The success of the 1954 recording ″Cliston Blues″ won Chenier his first wide recognition. He later was joined by his brother Cleveland Chenier, who played a corrugated metal washboard, and they played together on the 1965 hit, ″Louisiana Blues.″

Chenier’s music, including songs such as ″Monifique″ in 1967, a slow drag with a heavy beat, and ″Tu le ton son ton″ in 1970, had wide appeal and influence.

His 1975 recording, ″Jambalaya,″ demonstrated the buoyant, jazz- influenced playing of his later style. The essence of his work and his improvisational ability was captured in the 1973 film ″Hot Pepper.″

In 1984, Chenier received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Paul Simon, in one cut on his hit ″Graceland″ album, saluted Chenier as ″the king of the bayou.″

A wake was planned Friday, but arrangements for a service were incomplete, the Williams Funeral Home of Opelousas said.

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