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The Balfa Brothers: Legends of Cajun Music

The Balfa Brothers

The Balfa Brothers could not escape the sounds of a fiddle when they were growing up in Grand Louis, Louisiana. Papa Charles Balfa was a farmer and an enthusiastic performer of the Cajun songs and tunes familiar to everyone in French Louisiana.

In 1937, Dewey Balfa was ten years old when he started joining his father and older brother in the family band. A few years later, he convinced his brothers to take their act on the road, a few miles down the road to Hick's Wagonwheel Club. Dewey persuaded his brothers Will, Harry, Rodney, and Burkeman to perform eight dances a week. But the number of performances dwindled as the popularity of rock and roll started to climb in the 1950s.

Dewey worried about the future of the distinctive Cajun sound, realizing it was not being passed to many of the youth of French Louisiana. In 1964, he was called in as a last minute replacement on guitar to perform with a local Cajun band at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. Dewey was stunned to see seventeen thousand people cheering for more with repeated standing ovations.

This enthusiastic response was a major turning point for Dewey, who went home with a new sense of pride in his culture and his music. He got his brothers playing again and began bringing their passionate music to festivals across the nation. Soon the brothers were performing in Western Europe. It was The Balfa Brothers who introduced Cajun music to a national and international audience. Moreover, the continuing popularity of Cajun sounds is a testament to the wondrous mixture of charisma and good humor they brought to this ancient dance music from the bayou country.

Tragically, Dewey lost his brothers Will and Rodney in an automobile accident in 1979. To add to that already horrific loss, his wife Hilda passed away in 1980. These combined tragedies were almost enough to bring him down, but he realized that his only choice was to carry on with the goal he had set for himself and his only relief from the suffering was the music itself. He gradually began playing and travelling again, earning a National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982.

Throughout the 1980s he shared his music with countless audiences and taught many workshops as musicians from around the country became attracted to Cajun music. He continued playing until his death in June of 1992, when he succumbed to the cancer that had been hounding him for some time.

For more info, visit Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® Heritage Music Collection.

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