Ann Allen Savoy completes her long-awaited second volume of her encyclopedic Cajun music books
When Ann Allen Savoy announced late last year that she had finally finished Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People--Volume II, calling it “long-awaited” was hardly marketing hype.
The first volume, Cajun Music A Reflection of a People—Volume I, was published in 1984.
“I started ‘Book Two’ in 1985, and it was already massive when I put it all in a big box and thought, ‘Maybe my children will complete this,’” says Savoy, on the phone from her rural Eunice, La. farmhouse. “All these young musician friends, would say, ‘Miss Ann, you got to get this done!’”
They had reason to be so eager.
The 444-page first volume earned such accolades as The Washington Post’s judgement that it was “perhaps the most comprehensive and stunning portrait of this music ever written.” It led to Savoy’s American Folklore Society Benjamin A. Botkin Prize in recognition for her outstanding career achievement in public folklore, and has since become the standard reference for Cajun, Creole and Zydeco music.
Ann Allen Savoy (Photo: Gabrielle Savoy)
A native of Richmond, Va., Ann Allen Savoy moved to Louisiana in 1977 and began photographing and documenting Cajun music and musicians. Additionally, she authored the chapter on Cajun and Zydeco for the book American Roots Music, and wrote numerous articles about the music as well as CD booklets.
But she’s also been making music all this time, most notably a duet album with Linda Ronstadt; a Cajun music tribute album Evangeline: A Tribute to Cajun Music that showcased performances of classic Cajun repertoire by the likes of Ronstadt, John Fogerty, Richard Thompson, Maria McKee, and David Johansen; Creole Bred: A Tribute To Creole & Zydeco, that included tracks by Cyndi Lauper, Taj Mahal, Tom Tom Club, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Michelle Shocked and Keith Frank; two albums with the all-woman Cajun band The Magnolia Sisters; and her own gypsy jazz ensemble Ann Savoy and Her Sleepless Knights.
Marc Savoy playing accordion, from Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People, Volume II
She also plays with her husband, the legendary accordion player and manufacturer Marc Savoy, in The Savoy Doucet Cajun Band and The Savoy Family Band, the latter also starring their gifted musician sons Wilson and Joel and daughter Sarah. And now, 36 years after publishing the first volume of Cajun Music, she’s completed the 456-page second one; together, the two books document a rich southwestern Louisiana cultural tradition that dates back more than 350 years.
Bluebird Press will now publish Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People Volume II on Feb. 17. Like the first volume, it’s lavishly illustrated with 400 historical and present-day photographs, transcriptions of 35 English and Cajun French interviews (with the original French ones matched by English translations), biographies, discographies, and over 100 songs with English translations, phonetics and musical notation.
Among the many celebrated artists are Austin Pitre, Dewey Segura, Happy Fats, Harry Choates, Nathan Abshire, Octa Clark, Chester “Pee Wee” Broussard and Wilfred Latour, and on the Zydeco side, Boozoo Chavis, Nathan Williams, Edward Poullard and Preston Frank.
“It’s a follow-up to Volume I, featuring the rest of the great artists that inspired me,” says Savoy, noting that the full title of the second book is tagged with Includes Creole & Zydeco. “It covers Cajun music, Zydeco, dancehall people—the sound of South Louisiana, with some very early stuff and much later stuff. Historic musicians that couldn’t be covered in the first book are included, as well as people who came along later.”
She notes that son Joel and daughter Sarah transcribed and proofed much of the French language material.
“I assembled a massive archive,” continues Savoy, who conceived the first Cajun Music volume in response to the interest of concert audiences in learning more about Cajun music and Zydeco. She decided at first to compile a songbook of classic repertoire from favorite artists, then speak with the musicians who made the music and make copies of their vintage photographs while snapping her own.
“It ended up being a really fun, monastic project!” she says. But with all her other activities, she never got around to finishing Volume II until now.
“I know this is a horrible thing to say, but the pandemic was my gift: Normally we travel quite a bit playing music, and suddenly there was no opportunity to travel. But I love being home now, and have learned new things on guitar—and I’m completing the final mix of my next solo record.”
In December, Savoy offered a special limited run of 200 first edition hardcover copies of Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People, Volume II--Includes Creole & Zydeco.
“Whenever I traveled, people would ask, ‘When is Volume II coming out?’ and now they’re all getting in touch. They went ballistic when we put it up on Facebook.”
Come Feb. 17, softcover versions will be available at Savoy’s website as well as Marc Savoy’s famed Savoy Music Center music store and accordion factory, located a quick hop from the house. And as a complement to the books, the Arhoolie Foundation’s website will host the Ann Savoy Collection of audio assets including nearly 200 interviews that were recorded as part of the books’ research, along with interviews of Cajun, Creole and Zydeco artists conducted over the last 60 years by Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz.
And while it’s early, Savoy declares that Volume III of Cajun Music A Reflection of a People is in the works, the title to include From the Cradle to the Dancehall--Women in Cajun Music.