Born June 25, 1925(1925-06-25)
Opelousas, Louisiana
Died December 12, 1987 (aged 62)
Lafayette, Louisiana
Genres Zydeco, Cajun, Creole music, R&B, jazz, blues
Occupations Musician, songwriter
Instruments Singer, accordion
Years active 1954 - 1987

 

 Clifton Chenier (June 25, 1925 - December 12, 1987) a Creole French-speaking native of Opelousas, Louisiana, was an eminent performer and recording artist of Zydeco, which arose from Cajun and Louisiana Creole music, with R&B, jazz, and blues influences. He played the accordion and won a Grammy Award in 1983. He also was recognized with a National Heritage Fellowship, and in 1989 was inducted posthumously into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Chenier began his recording career in 1954, when he signed with Elko Records and released Clifton's Blues, a regional success. His first hit record was soon followed by "Ay 'Tite Fille (Hey, Little Girl)" (a cover of Professor Longhair's song). This received some mainstream success. With the Zydeco Ramblers, Chenier toured extensively. They soon signed with Chess Records of Chicago, Illinois, followed by the Arhoolie label.

Chenier was the first act to play at Antone's, a blues club on Sixth Street in Austin, Texas. Later in 1976, he reached a national audience when he appeared on the premier season of the PBS music program Austin City Limits.[1] Three years later in 1979 he returned to the show with his Red Hot Louisiana Band.[2]

Chenier's popularity peaked in the 1980s, and he was recognized with a Grammy Award in 1983 for his album I'm Here. It was the first Grammy for his new label Alligator Records. Chenier followed Queen Ida as the second Louisiana Creole to win a Grammy.

Chenier is credited with redesigning the wood and crimped tin washboard into the frottoir, an instrument that would easily hang from the shoulders. Cleveland Chenier, Clifton's older brother, also played in the Red Hot Louisiana Band. He found popularity for his ability to manipulate the distinctive sound of the frottoir by rubbing several bottle openers (held in each hand) along its ridges.

During their prime, Chenier and his band traveled throughout the world.

Chenier suffered from diabetes, which eventually forced him to have a foot amputated and required dialysis because of associated kidney problems.[3]

Chenier died of diabetes-related kidney disease in December 1987 in Lafayette. He was buried in All Souls Cemetery in Loreauville, Iberia Parish, Louisiana

Since 1987 his son C. J. Chenier has carried on the Zydeco tradition by touring with his father's band and recording albums.[4][5]

  • Notable guitarist and songwriter Rory Gallagher wrote a song in tribute to Clifton Chenier entitled "The King Of Zydeco".
  • Paul Simon mentions Chenier in his song "That Was Your Mother."
  • John Mellencamp refers to "Clifton" in his song "Lafayette", about the Louisiana city where Chenier often performed. The song is on Mellencamp's 2003 album Trouble No More.

 

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