I f rich history and world-acclaimed cuisine are the head and heart of Louisiana, music is its collective soul. Signature Louisiana sounds can be found in both urban centers and rural countrysides, from grand concert halls to obscure roadside honky-tonks. Offerings vary, from the state’s indigenous jazz, Cajun and zydeco music to its musicians’ notable contributions to the history and evolution of American blues, country and rock ‘n’ roll.

Jazz was born in New Orleans and first flourished in the Storyville district north of the French Quarter. It is a percussive and often improvisational fusion of European, African and Caribbean music that came to prominence in the early 20th century. No city in America is home to more jazz talent.

Cajun music was that of 18th-century Acadian exiles who settled the swamps, prairies and bayous throughout south Louisiana. It is a blend of French folk music of the era with doses of influence from the area’s Native American, Anglo-American and European populations.

Outside Louisiana, Cajun and zydeco are often used interchangeably, but there are differences. Zydeco, the younger of the two genres, shares some of Cajun music’s traits. Zydeco, the music of Creole sharecroppers and farmers in south Louisiana, grew from Creole families gathering at rural farmhouses on the Acadiana prairie and temporarily converting them into neighborhood dance halls. While Cajun music was influenced by European tradition, zydeco was influenced by African, Caribbean and later the American blues genres.

American blues and rhythm and blues originated from field hollers sung by workers in the sugar cane and cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta region. In rural areas along the Mississippi and Red rivers in Louisiana, blues music legends were born or learned their trade. Field hollers evolved to include instrumentation and ultimately amplification, and Louisiana artists were among the earliest to record blues and spread its popularity.

During the mid-20th century, artists shifted the music from Louisiana’s countryside to urban areas. Musicians in New Orleans began merging traditional blues into more commercial-sounding music, hoping to get airplay and sell recordings. New Orleans soon became a southern hub for the R&B industry, a haven not only for successful artists but also for vital, national-level music industry activity contributions.

Both traditional blues and R&B strongly influenced the evolution of all popular American music genres, most notably by mixing with traditional country music to spawn rockabilly, honky tonk and ultimately rock ‘n’ roll music. Country music was passed down generations until the debut of live-performance radio shows. One of the most important was Louisiana Hayride, which debuted in 1948 and was broadcast throughout the South from Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium. The Hayride served as the launching pad for artists such as Elvis Presley and Hank Williams.

For more information on Louisiana music, notable venues and more, visit LouisianaSoundtrack.com. For information on what to do away from the stages and dance floors, visit LouisianaTravel.com.


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