101-Year-Old Fiddler Willie Durisseau Makes Only Known Recordings of Pre-WWII Creole Fiddle Styles
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Arnaudville, Louisiana Nouveau Electric Records releases a unique publication, Creole House Dance, featuring the 101-year-old Creole violinist on June 19 Willie Durisseau (1918-2019). Creole House Dance contains two tracks of three small songs each, some of which depict a pre-WWII Creole violin style that has never been recorded before. These performances were recorded by Louis Michot (Grammy winner singer / violinist) Lost Bayou Walkers and founder of NER) on a zoom stereo recorder in the spring of 2019 in the Durisseau house. Creole House Dance is available as a 45 rpm vinyl 7 ”digital download and streaming platforms.

While Willie and his wife Irma Michot shared their memories of the Creole house dances of the 1930s, Durisseau took his violin and allowed his fingers to recall the songs he and his late brother Jimmy Durisseau had played in their hometown at the time. Lebeau, Louisiana. In their community, musicians played exclusively on violin and guitar without an accordion. Creole house dance features 21st Music lover of the century with a vivid snapshot of these solemn weekly affairs.

Louis wrote of his encounters with Willie for the Louisiana Folklife Program:

Louis Michot / "Live at Dockside"

“At a time when we look back on recordings to get a glimpse of the roots of French music in Louisiana, we sometimes overlook the deepest sources of information and experience in our region – the elders who played at the Bals de Maison and at it participated. I was fortunate enough to meet Willie and Irma Durisseau in 2019, who attended many house dances in their hometown of Lebeau, Louisiana, in the 1930s. Willie was a Creole violinist who played in the dances.

"Willie Durisseau was born in Mallet on February 20, 1918, and grew up in Lebeau, both parishes of St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. His days as a Creole violinist began in Lebeau, where he and his brother Jimmie made their first violins from boxes of cigars. They played house dances in the 1930s and were usually accompanied by one or more of their cousins, the Joe brothers: Aaron, Caffery, and Clarence. The two brothers played the violin or guitar or both, but neither played the accordion, and according to Willie and Irma, they never had an accordion at their house dances in Lebeau.

“Willie eventually met Irma Doucet at one of these house dances and the two married in August 1940. Irma said they played and attended house dances in 1938 and 1939, but that in 1940 much of the community moved to Beaumont. Texas, presumably for work. In the same year Willie joined the US Army and fought in Okinawa during World War II. Irma said they played a few little house dances after the war, but that those social gatherings soon faded as the congregation wasn't as strong as it was before the war and Willie put down the fiddle to raise his family and in Construction work. Willie and Irma later moved to Opelousas to raise their family, but the couple never let go of their legacy and memories of those days in Lebeau.

“In 2017 a family member, Mr. Durisseau, bought a new violin and at the age of 99 he took up the instrument again to recall some of the melodies of these dances over 80 years ago. Since it's hard to imagine still playing the violin at 101, Willie was able to carry a tune for about a minute at a time, and only a few tunes within an hour, but the clarity and authenticity of The Melodies flowed like gold from his fingers.

“I sat down with the Durisseaus in April and May 2019 for a series of informal interviews Corey LedetRobin Miller, a French voiceover and culture enthusiast of Creole Zydeco, and JB Adams, a Houston Creole music lover and radio DJ who first found out that Willie had returned to the violin at the age of 100 years old.

“Willie Durisseau's music was like a precious time capsule that had been buried in his head for almost a century. While many musicians modernize and change their repertoire as trends change, Willie stuck to the music of his youth and accessed it like a rare gem to share with his family, while Irma recalls stories from older, simpler times remembered. Mr. Durisseau's ability to capitalize on those nights at the Bals de Maison makes his music truly priceless.

"Willie's death on December 17, 2019 marked the end of an era. He was the last surviving Creole house dance violinist known in Louisiana."

Read Michots extensive essay.

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