Heart of Louisiana: A Creole Fiddler story

HOL: Creole Fiddler

Opelousas, La. (WVUE) - He’s considered a Louisiana musical treasure, a fiddler from Opelousas who some are calling the last of the creole fiddlers. He learned to play at creole house dances and he can still scratch out an old song on his violin.

There may be others who play in the same creole style as fiddler Willie Durisseau, but it’s unlikely anyone is older. Durisseau is 101 years old.

He grew up on a farm in the community of mallet, near Opelousas.

“And your creole language. you got a little bit of Spanish, a little bit of English and a little bit of Swahiti language all mixed up together. and it’s mostly a community language with dialect in it. so you go different areas over here, you got different type of creole,” musician Joe Citizen said.

Citizen learned about creole music from his father.

He described how they would get together a group of people during the weekend at a house and make different noises with their foot while humming. They began to incorporate instruments adding on to that and then the music started.

Durisseau says his first violin was home-made. His first violin was crafted from a cigar box with a bow made of horsetail.

Back in the day when Duracell was playing the most, he and other creole musicians would get together for house dances, and that’s where Durisseau met his wife Irma Durisseau.

“When I saw him for the first time, he must have been in his 20s. We would have house dances, in them times, it was house dances. He would play the fiddle. so every weekend we had a dance at different houses,” Irma said.

Shortly after Willie and Irma married, the army called and Durisseau was part of the World War Two battle in Okinawa.

After the war, he worked construction jobs and Irma, who’s now 93, managed the family home. They had 14 children of their own.

Willie Durisseau and his wife Irma have been married for 77 years.

Durisseau was recently honored at a fiddle contest in Mamou, where he met Denise Frazier of Tulane University’s Center for the Gulf South. Frazier also plays the violin, and let Durisseau play her instrument.

“There was kind of a scratchy kind of grating sound that I had never produced from my violin. I heard Haiti. I heard Louisiana. I heard Zydeco. I heard Cajun,” Frazier said.

“It’s the amalgamation of all the different histories, knowledges, desires, passions of people who love playing together,” Frazier said.

There is still interest in this old type of creole music and Terry Domingue is one of those carrying on the tradition.

“The creoles put a little more blues, you know, grooves to it, you know. Well, I always did think it’s important now so we don’t lose it, you know, just to keep the tradition going, the creole culture,” Domingue said.

Copyright 2019 WVUE. All rights reserved.