Michael Doucet, born in Scott, Louisiana, carries forward the musical traditions of the French people who were driven out of Canada in 1755 and migrated south. Doucet grew up surrounded by the Cajun culture of southwest Louisiana. Music was everywhere; “I don’t think I know a French family that doesn’t have a musician in the family,” he told interviewer Mark Greenberg. In addition to hearing neighborhood musicians, Doucet was influenced by a local Saturday afternoon TV show, Passe Partout, featuring a band led by accordionist Aldus Roger. That group played traditional Cajun music mixed with Western swing and other country sounds. But no one made a distinction between traditional and nontraditional music; it was all “French music.”
Doucet played trumpet and guitar before fishing his grandfather’s old fiddle out from under a bed and beginning to play it. He formed a band that played traditional material but never dreamed that the music had any wider popularity until a French promoter heard the band and invited them to play a festival in France. He ended up staying six months and calls that 1974 trip “the turning point in my life.”
When he returned to Louisiana, Doucet got a National Endowment for the Arts grant and began researching the music in earnest. He spent time with the late fiddler Dennis McGee, a white musician who had recorded with Amede Ardoin, a highly regarded black singer and accordion player.
Doucet formed a band called Coteau, which he calls “the first of its kind that even tried to assimilate Cajun music with rock ’n’ roll sung in French and be traditional at the same time.” That group broke up after two years; some of the players went in a more commercial direction, while others, including Doucet, preferred a more traditional approach. Doucet and the traditionalists formed Beausoleil in 1976. The band got a boost in 1980 when, with the help of New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme’s blackened fish dishes, all things Cajun became hip and trendy.
The popularity of Cajun music and culture has allowed Doucet to make a living from music, something he never expected. The band has appeared on public radio’s Prairie Home Companion and backed country singer Mary Chapin-Carpenter on “Down at the Twist and Shout.” Their music has appeared in films and commercials, and the band did the soundtrack for Belizaire the Cajun and appeared in the movie.
"Cajun music is wrapped up in emotion,” Doucet said, “Maybe some of the emotions, the more modern emotions, aren't adequately covered by the old songs. So that's what we try to do through our new compositions. In many ways we're the same individuals our ancestors were 300 years ago, but the times around us have changed. If the music captures where we are now, it just adds to the preservation of Cajun music."
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Grasser, Steven. “The Best Damn Dance Band You’ll Hear Play in Spokane.” The Communicator; Spokane Falls Community College (April 1995).
Greenberg, Mark. “Michael Doucet: Cajun Evolution” Times (partial citation).
Griffin, Sid. “Beausoleil: L’Echo.” Qreview Times (partial citation).
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Doucet, Michael. Michael Doucet & Cajun Brew. Rounder CD, 2009.
____________. From Now On. Smithsonian Folkways CD, 2008.
Doucet, Michael, et al. Masters of the Folk Violin. Arhoolie 434.
Doucet, Michael & Beausoleil. Bayou Deluxe. Rhino Records R2 71169.
Michael Doucet, interview by Nicholas R. Spitzer, 2005 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Michael Doucet, interview by Nicholas R. Spitzer, 2005 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Michael Doucet answers the question 'How did you first learn about French culture?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar
Michael Doucet answers the question 'Did you have musicians in your family?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar
Michael Doucet answers the question 'What are the origins of your recordings?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar