by Maida Owens, Folklife Program Director
This story appeared in the October/November issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
How do we recognize Louisiana’s rich living traditions and the people who sustain them? Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser has designated October as the ninth annual Louisiana Folklife Month to showcase tradition bearers, draw attention to overlooked cultural communities and increase appreciation for the vital role folklorists play in sustaining the state’s distinct culture.
Lt. Governor Nungesser emphasized the importance of the folklife program and what it means for Louisiana. Folklife Month is a perfect time for us to remember our traditions and honor our culture. Each of our traditions trace back to our ancestors, including the Native Americans who inhabited this land and the people who colonized Louisiana. Without them, we would not have the identity we have today.
Louisiana Folklife Month is a project of the Louisiana Folklife Commission in collaboration with the Louisiana Folklore Society and partner organizations in each of the host communities. It is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.
As part of the celebrations, six Folklife Ambassadors will honor tradition bearers with whom they have worked during Louisiana Folklife Month. The tradition bearers include a singer/songwriter from Houma, a Black Masking Indian in New Orleans, two crawfish bisque makers from Breaux Bridge, a musician from West Monroe, a corn-shuck craftswoman from Chauvin, and a couple who maintain Cane River Creole traditions in Natchitoches. For more information about the tradition bearers and events, visit LouisianaFolklife.org.
Meet the tradition bearers
BARRY CHAUVIN is a singer/songwriter and storyteller, who bought his first guitar at 14. Over the years, he has been a regular host and featured artist at numerous songwriter festivals, including the Mississippi Songwriter Festival, Ozone Songwriter Festival and Overbrook Songwriter Festival. He co-produces and cohosts “Songwriter Sessions,” a project that features songwriter performances at local venues, a songwriter interview series on YouTube, and a songwriter workshop series.
In 2023, BIG CHIEF DARRYL MONTANA celebrated his 50th year participating as a Black-masking Indian during Mardi Gras. His 7th Ward Creole family has masked for several generations, beginning in the late 1800s with his great-great-uncle “Becate” Baptiste Eugene of the first known tribe, the Creole Wild West. Montana’s intricate designs and superb beading work have earned him widespread recognition. Today, he passes along Black-masking Indian traditions and artistry through classes for children and adults.
Crawfish bisque continues to be a labor of love prepared by families and friends in homes across Southwestern Louisiana. Twin sisters JAN COLLET WEBRE and JILL COLLET ZIMMERMAN grew up in a small community in the Atchafalaya Basin. As such, they know seafood and all the ways to prepare crawfish. Each year, with the help of friends and family, some 500 to 1,200 stuffed heads make their way into the pots to feed visitors during the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival.
Renowned in North Louisiana as a master steel guitar and Dobro musician, LAYMON GODWIN began playing steel guitar with area country bands and continued throughout his career in law enforcement. He performed in country show bands, such as the Ouachita Valley Jamboree, Twin City Jamboree, Ward 5 Jamboree, Wildwood Express and Dixie Jamboree. Because it was easier to transport, he later learned to play Dobro (resophonic slide guitar) in bluegrass bands, most notably Grassfire, and gospel performances.
In the 1970s, BRUNELLA LUKE learned to make corn-shuck dolls from Thelma Duplantis. These collectible dolls were first sold at Lagniappe on the Bayou, an annual three-day festival in Chauvin that ran from 1969 to 1994 and brought thousands of people from around the world to Chauvin. Luke is responsible for creating hundreds of corn-shuck doll characters and scenes depicting Cajun culture, including harvesting seafood, seafood boils, holiday gatherings and even the Rougarou.
NICOL and FJ DELPHIN learned the Cane River Creole foodways and traditions from their elders and insist that they are passed on to future generations, including quilting, sewing, hunting, fishing, tanning, gardening, making cracklin’, hog roasting, using gigs, bows and arrows, making jelly, syrup, ice cream sauce topping, salsa, drying of cayenne peppers, filé and more. They are restoring their 205-year-old historic structure, the John Carroll Jones Plantation Home, built from a Creole architectural design.