This week at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, it’s Early Country Music Week, but it’s also Cajun Week. Louisiana Cajun music is rising up out of Randolph County, with a splash of some French Quebec sounds, too. It’s a rich, multi-ethnic scene and one Canadian Cajun-accordion player is on a mission.
“I’m not only in love with Cajun music but with my grandmother,” said André Baillargeon from Montreal, Quebec. It’s his first year at the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College. He’s on a mission this week to learn a song for his deceased grandmother.
“She was so special,” André said with a thick French-Canadian accent. “When she died at 106 years old, I said in my prayer to my grandmother, ‘Help me to learn the accordion because I don’t know nothing about the accordion and I want to play it.’ I said, ‘If you help me learn the accordion,’ in my prayer, ‘I’m gonna compose a song for you.’”
André was introduced to the accordion in Louisiana and fell in love with its sound and with the music of his grandparents: Cajun music.
“I think my grandmother helped me but I have to do the job, too!” Baillargeon said with a laugh. “So that’s why I’m here in Elkins.”
André is both learning to play the Cajun accordion and writing a song for his grandmother this week at Augusta. The song André is working on is called “Germaine” – named after his grandmother. It’s a version of a traditional Cajun song called “Madeleine.”
André is one of about 140 at Augusta this week. Some students are studying Early Country Music; others have come to learn Cajun and Creole music from the masters like Sheryl Cormier, sometimes called “The Queen of the Cajun Accordion”, and the four-time Grammy nominee, Cajun fiddler David Greely. Students take classes all day and then jam and dance late into the night.