An in-depth examination of the music of the 78 era.
07 February, 2010
"La Danseuse (The Dancer)" - Delma Lachney and Blind Uncle Gaspard
Set Two: Social Music; Disc One; Track Four: "La Danseuse (The Dancer) - Fox Trot" performed by Delma Lachney and Blind Uncle Gaspard. "Violin with guitar." Recorded in Chicago on January 26, 1929. Original issue Vocalion 5303.
Delma Lachney was a fiddler and vocalist from around Marksville, Louisiana, which is located in the central part of the state. There is little biographical information other than birth and death dates (1896-1947) and the fact that Lachney traveled to Chicago in 1929 to record a handful of sides for Vocalion. On most of these sides, he is accompanied by Alcide "Blind Uncle" Gaspard (1880-1937) on guitar. Gaspard was from neighboring Avoyelles Parish, although there is no evidence to suggest that he and Lachney had played together before this recording session (at which Gaspard also recorded several solo sides).
This recording marks the first appearance by Cajun or Acadian musicians on the Anthology. The music of the Acadian people is a major part of the Anthology and their history deserves to be examined in brief.
Modern Cajuns are descended from French settlers in the Maritime provinces of eastern Canada and what is present day Maine. In the mid-1700s, these settlers were violently expelled from Canada by the British. Some became indentured servants in New York and Pennsylvania, while others were sent to South Carolina and Georgia, where they were sold into slavery. In 1754, the first Acadian settlers arrived in Louisiana from New York. By the 1760s, Acadians were settling in Louisiana (which was still a French territory) in large numbers. Over time, elements of Spanish, English and African cultures were mixed with their French heritage - largely through intermarriage - resulting in a wholly unique culture. Even their language, while still nominally French, is entirely distinct from the language as spoken in France and in French Canada. Several industries established by Cajuns, including rice cultivation and the shrimp fishery, have evolved into some of the major industries in the state of Louisiana.
When the Acadians were expelled from the Maritimes, they brought with them the traditional music of their French homeland. In the late 1800s, affordable accordions had become available while at the same time popular dances such as the waltz and the two-step were becoming widespread. These elements combined with the traditional French ballads already sung in the bayou to create what eventually became Cajun music. Modern Cajun music seems to have evolved around 1900, roughly the same time that jazz and blues were starting. Several pioneering Cajun artists appear on the Anthology, including Columbus Fruge, Joseph Falcon, and Le Breux Freres, all of whom we will hear later on this set.
According to Smith's notes, "La Danseuse" is notable for the "steady and regular unison rhythm" which is "very typical of Louisiana." Compared to the first three selections on this set, "La Danseuse" is comparatively sedate in mood. The guitar, played by Gaspard, keeps a steady Fox Trot rhythm while Lachney's fiddle plays a brisk melody punctuated by sections of slow bowing, creating a certain tension which is suddenly released when Lachney returns to the brisk melody. This selection is the fourth of seven tracks in a row which feature the fiddle.
The Great-Minds-Think-Alike Department: Check out The Old, Weird America, another blog on Smith's Anthology. While my blog focuses on history and close lyrical reading (as well as my laughable attempts at musical analysis), The Old, Weird America helps give a broader view of the artists and the songs by providing downloads of other songs by the artists in question, as well as variant recordings of the selection. It's an excellent blog and is well worth visiting.
The Shameless Plug Department...What?: Check out the long awaited(?) fourth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast. On this all-blues episode, you'll hear New Year's greetings from Lightin' Hopkins and Mary Harris, as well as Delta Blues by Son House, Willie Brown and Charlie Patton. You'll also hear recordings by more obscure figures like Geeshie Wiley, Blind Joe Reynolds, William Harris, and more. Also available on iTunes! Subscribe today so you don't miss a single episode. It's free and it doesn't hurt. Who can ask for more?
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Unable to find any video of a latter-day performance of "La Danseuse," I have instead selected a video featuring Cajun fiddle playing. Here's PeakFiddler (who isn't a Cajun) performing in the Cajun style.