Back to news 64 Parishes and the Origins of Zydeco

As summer heats up across Louisiana, so do the dance floors of nightclubs across Acadiana and beyond where zydeco remains a hot music scene with a popularity that spans multiple generations.

The peculiar name of this indigenous genre, a modern outgrowth of the accoustic Creole folk music known as “la-la,” entered the Louisiana lexicon in the 1960s. Folklorist Mack McCormick decided on the spelling of the word for the notes to his album A Treasury of Field Recordings (1959) in reference to the French lyrics “les haricots sont pas sales,” or “the snap beans are not salty.” Zydeco derives from the phonetic syllables of the first two words, “les haircots.” (Snap beans were salted with meat, making the phrase a colloquial expression for the dietary deprivations of poverty.)

In 1965 the newly coined term gained widespread familiarity when Clifton Chenier released a song titled “Zydeco Sont Pas Sale.” Zydeco features accordion-led melodies accompanied by the distinctive “chank-a-chank” of a metal rubboard, known as a frottoir, with songs sung in both French and English that share a familiar resonance with blues and R&B.

Read more about the origins of zydeco at KnowLA, the Digital Encyclopedia of Louisiana, along with biographies of many of its leading performers, including Wilson “Boozoo” ChavisStanley “Buckwheat Zydeco” Dural Jr., and Queen Ida Guillory.