Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bois Sec

Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin was born November 16, 1915, in l'Anse de 'Prien Noir (Black Cyprian's Cove) near Bayou Duralde, Louisiana. Duralde is an unincorporated village between the towns of Mamou and Basile on the southwestern prairies of Louisiana. Within Duralde are a number of anses (coves) or small settlements. Family history tells that Ardoin's great-great-grandfather Cyprian settled in the area in the 1830s. The family has lived in the village since then.

For many years, the Ardoin family sharecropped fields, raising rice or soybeans or using the land for grazing, depending on the year and the season. Ardoin's nickname, "Bois Sec" (dry wood), was given to him as a child because, he said, he was always the first to the barn when a rainstorm interrupted work in the fields.

When Ardoin was about two years old, his father died. His mother took a job doing laundry for a white family to earn money. Ardoin's older brother hired himself out to help support the family. When Bois Sec was about seven, he started to take his older brother's accordion and hide in the barn to practice. The young Ardoin didn't realize that his sound carried, and one day he got caught. "I didn't know that when you're high up, you can see far, but the sound carries far as well," he recalled. But his brother was impressed and, instead of getting angry, gave him permission to keep using his accordion.

As a young man, Bois Sec often joined his first cousin, Amédé Ardoin, at dance parties, where he played accordion. Amédé was well known in the area and was the first French-speaking black musician to make 78 rpm recordings in the 1930s. Bois Sec played the triangle for Amédé and watched him play the accordion. Eventually, Bois Sec was able to buy his own instrument. "I bought one from one of my cousins," he said. "I paid three dollars for it. Boy, I was really proud of my accordion. I had gotten a job paying 50 cents. When I finished my work, I had three dollars. I had a little cinnamon-colored swayback horse. I rode it about 10 miles down the road to buy that first accordion."

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