CANRAY FONTENOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cajun/Creole fiddler Canray Fontenot was born in Evangeline parish in Louisiana in 1918. He grew up in a sharecropping family and both his parents played accordion. However it was his father, Adam (Nonc) Fontenot, in particular who was considered an excellent player, some historians claiming that he was the equal of his contemporary and friend, the great Amadé Ardoin.  Canray’s interest lay in the fiddle and he first played a cigar-box fiddle that had strings taken off the screen door of his home. His bow was made from the branches of pear trees and sewing thread. When he was 19 years old he was invited by Amadé Ardoin to travel to New York to support him at a recording session. Fontenot's mother, however, refused to let him go, telling him he was too young to travel to New York.

After playing with several string bands, Fontenot joined with accordion player Alphonse "Bois-Sec" Ardoin to form a duo in the mid-1940s. The two musicians continued to play together for more than forty years. Fontenot and Ardoin made their debut outside of Louisiana in 1966, performing at the Newport Folk Festival. Together they appeared at Carnegie Hall, at the annual Rhode Island Cajun/Blue Grass Festival, at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and at numerous folk festivals both in the United States and abroad. Although they were known as a team, Canray also established his own reputation. More than one critic has called him "the greatest black Louisiana French fiddler of our time." Some say simply, "the greatest fiddler," of any race. Canray Fontenot had a long association with Arhoolie Records and they released a series of his recordings during the last 25 years of his life. With his primitive style of playing the fiddle, accented by the rhythmic stomping of his bare feet, Fontenot was one of the last players of the pre-zydeco Creole style of music popularized in the 19th century. He did not play zydeco, and didn't have much use for it, once telling a BBC interviewer, "Zydeco? I'm going to tell you one thing. There ain't no such thing. Because that's nothing but snap beans." Despite his professional success, music never made him rich and he supplemented his music income by working as a sharecropper for several years and as a shopkeeper. Canray Fontenot died in Louisiana in 1995 aged 76.