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Retro Redux: Queen Ida Still Rules

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I've always maintained that music lovers of my generation have surprisingly varied tastes in music. I've tried to reflect that fact in the pieces I write, touching on a lot of different genres from time to time. However, it occurred to me that I've sort of neglected one of my favorites — the music of the bayou; i.e. Cajun and Zydeco.

Regular readers might recall that I've occasionally written reviews of new albums that feature Cajun or Zydeco music, but what I haven't done is to write a feature about one of the long-time stars. For example, the legendary Queen Ida.

Ida Lewis Guillory was born into a rice-farming family near Lake Charles, Louisiana, an area rich in Cajun and Creole traditions. Growing up with French as her first language, she was also immersed in the traditional music of the area and learned to play both piano and accordion.

Portions of her childhood were spent in Texas and California, but as she grew to adulthood and eventually began raising a family of her own, she always returned to the music of her heritage. As part of San Francisco’s thriving Creole community she often made music with her friends and family, but as a working mother she needed a regular paycheck so did a variety of 'regular' jobs — including school bus driver.

By the early Seventies her children were grown, and she was ready to follow the advice of friends and try a musical career, first appearing with her brother's band and then with other area groups. As a talented singer and accordionist (a rarity for a woman) she was much in demand, and her future was assured in 1975 when she was declared 'Queen Of Zydeco' at the Bay area Mardis Gras festival.

She continued to build her fame with appearances like the one at the following year's Monterey Jazz and Blues Festival, and she also began to cut some records (clips), backed by her Bon Temps Zydeco Band, a group that at one time or another has included several family members. Eventually her son — Myrick "Freeze" Guillory — joined up and added his musical skills, including his strong singing voice.

Through the years, Queen Ida has won a Grammy, toured Europe and Asia, and appeared on everything from Saturday Night Live to Austin City Limits. She has continued to make live appearances from time to time, and has even co-authored a cookbook filled with the recipes of her Creole heritage. Not bad for a working mother who got a late start on a musical career.

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