Jerry Devilliers' contribution's to Cajun music and its culture.


"Recapturing a Fading History." That was the headline of an old magazine article that I stumbled upon when searching through numerous newspaper archives, books and magazines of a deceased Cajun musician, the late Amar "Ti-Frere" Devillier.  He was a popular and accomplished accordion player from L'Anse Meg, a rural farming community between Eunice and Mamou, La. What started out as curiosity turned into a rather in-depth research that lasted months only after initiating a simple search of his name on the web search engine, Google. Little had I known of the extensive musical history of Amar, but also of his son, Jerry. As luck would have it, I made contact with Jerry and it was an eye opening experience for me personally as I visited him in his home in Eunice. He was welcoming, cordial and humble by nature. At 81 years of age, he is sharp-minded and with a quick-wit. Jerry was born during the Great Depression era on May 20th, 1938 to Amar and Dula (Guillory) Devillier. A sharecroppers son, he was expected to work in the field at a young age. He was unable to properly operate a mule drawn plow because of his lack of height, as he could not reach the plow handles. Instead, he had to hang on to the cross bar and let the mule lead the way. Times were hard and he was expected to do his share to help out the family. He rarely left the L'anse Meg area as a child. His first trip away, at the age of 9, was to Port Arthur, Texas to to visit his "Nunc" Angelas Manuel. Jerry was raised only speaking French until he went to school and had to learn English. Jerry has accomplished much in his lifetime. As a high school senior he was selected to participate in the prestigious State of Louisiana high school music talent competition, where he competed against many gifted students from all parts of the state and finished 1st runner-up while playing the harmonica. As Jerry tells it, up until then it was his 1st time ever to drive out of his small community in a vehicle and passing over the mammoth Baton Rouge bridge; crossing the Mississippi River was a real "hair raising" experience for him. As a young boy around 7 or 8 years old, Jerry participated in the very popular Mamou Mardi Gras festival's Courir de Mardi Gras as part of the traveling music group in back of a horse drawn wagon while playing the accordion. He would go on to attend and play for several years in his young adulthood as well. Jerry attended U.S.L. the University of Southwestern Louisiana (Presently called U.L.L. for University of Louisiana - Lafayette.) immediately after his high school graduation and was drafted into the army two days after graduating from college. When he got out of the Army, he went on to teach Mathematics at Chataignier, Eunice and Lafayette high schools. He taught at Lafayette High for two years and left to enroll into Graduate school at U.S.L. While still attending the university as a Grad student he would go on to teach Mathematics. During that time period he became very interested in photography and eventually left teaching to become a professional photographer. Early on, he worked as a sports photographer for multiple regional newspapers as well as becoming nationally acclaimed for some of his works in the field as a professional. Many photos he took hailed from the Acadiana region and depicted Cajun life and its culture. He owned a studio locally in Eunice. Jerry volunteered his time to the City of Eunice, the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, the V.F.W., and many other projects. I was originally on a quest to gather information on Jerry's father's playing career but was pleasantly surprised to find out that Jerry himself was also a well-rounded and accomplished musician. Like his father, Jerry had played the accordion and played it well, but he chose to play another instrument of preference. What I had no idea was that Jerry is considered a World Class harmonica player by some of the world's finest players of today, his peers, as a member of the largest international harmonica organization - S.P.A.H. The Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica. It's where Jerry's mission as a volunteer is to teach Cajun style harmonica to the worldwide attendees at their convention. In 2012, Jerry was honored by being selected as one of the headliners at the large convention, which is held in major cities each year. He teaches alongside such greats as Nashville recording artist and multi A.C.M. award winner, Kirk "Jelly Roll" Johnson, a former Lake Charles, Louisiana native, world renown Chicago, Illinois artist and teacher Joe Filisko and Seattle Washington's all time great "Harp Wizard" Grant Dermody, to name a few. Dermody and Filisko are both ranked among the top 100 players of all time. Jerry has enjoyed playing sessions with a standout list of performers such as, D.L. Menard, The Balfa Bros, Nathan Abshire, Johnnie Allen, Clifton Chenier, Terry Huval, August Broussard, Jaime Berzas, Kenneth Thibodeaux, Bubba Frey, John Delafose, Ed and Bee Deshotels, Marc Savoy, Chris Miller, and Bois-Sec Ardion, (To whom's playing style Jerry particularly enjoyed and recalls fond memories of going to Bois-Sec's camp often, enjoying cook out's and playing jam sessions together.) Not bad considering he taught himself as a young boy to play the 50 cent harmonica that his Mom bought for him. He learned Cajun tunes by listening to his Dad play the accordion and mimicking the sounds it made while trying to match him note for note. What is little known is the fact that Jerry is a major part of Cajun music history as a member of the Mamou Cajun Band along with Cyprien Landreneau and Adam Landreneau. In 1964 Ralph Rinzler, assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, came to Louisiana to scout around for Cajun musicians for the prestigious Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. After spending several days traveling around Acadiana and not hearing the sound he was looking for, he was leaving for the airport when all of a sudden he picked up a live AM radio broadcast (KEUN at that time) of the Revon Reed Show, direct from Fred's Lounge in Mamou and caught the last song of the show played by the trio.  It was the exact authentic sound he was searching for, Cajun music without the influence of country and western, which had become popular by this time. The trio comprised of Cyprien, Adam, and Jerry would not make the inaugural trip to Newport in 1964, due to each having obligations that didn't allow them to attend, but they did however in 1965. They were the only group to receive two standing ovations and to perform two encores that year at the festival. As the story goes, the energy from the crowd was so high afterwards, the audience didn't want them to leave the stage and kept insisting on yet another tune. The stage manager, becoming frantic to keep the show on schedule, had to plead with the crowd to please quiet down so the other performers could have their turns on stage. Acts that featured such performers as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, & Mary, Pete Seeger, Donovan, Gordon Lightfoot, The Chambers Brothers, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, etc. Music historians mainly remember the festival in 1965 as the year Dylan made his controversial electric guitar debut, but this group from the Mamou, Louisiana area was significant in introducing Cajun music outside the states borders, as was the group that preceded them in 1964, The Eunice Playboys, comprised of Louis "Vinus" Lejeune, Gladney Thibodeaux, Dewey Balfa (a last minute replacement for Wallace Lafleur who would become known as the ambassador of Cajun music and founder of  Festival de Acadiens)  and the two groups that followed them in successive years in 1966, comprised of Isom Fontenot, Bois-Sec Ardion and Canray Fontenot, and in 1967, featuring Nathan Abshire and The Balfa Brothers. The traditional three piece Cajun Band "The Mamou Band" comprised of  Cyprien Landreneau on the accordion, Adam Landreneau on the violin, accompanied at different times by either Jerry, Isom Fontenot, on a triangle or 'tit fer and the harmonica or Revon Reed on the triangle, toured large popular festivals in the US and in Europe in the late 50's and in the mid 60's such as the National Folk Life Festival in Washington D.C., the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, Central Park in New York City, the Jazz Fest in New Orleans, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Jewish Community Center in Houston Texas, the Berlin Jazz Festival in Germany. They went on to record an album called "Cajun Sole" and had songs featured on two other compilation albums, "Cajun Fais DO-DO" ( registered with Smithsonian Institute) featuring such artist as Nathan Abshire & The Pine Grove Boys, The Balfa Brothers, Isom Fontenot, Revon Reed and The Breaux Brothers and  "Cajun Champs." Years later, Jerry would be a part of a group of talented musicians that included Fred Charlie, Cliff Miller & Kenneth Thibodeaux from the city of Eunice that would travel to play at the Noirt Festival in France. He played at a large harmonica festival in Birmingham, Alabama featuring major national players as well. Interestingly enough, in 1966 Jerry received a phone call from Floyd Soileau, owner/operator of Floyd's Record Shop, a very popular regional recording studio and record shop located in Ville Platte, asking Jerry to lay down harmonica  tracks on a Louisiana blues single "Street Walkin' Woman" by Donnie Jacobs on Soileau's Jin Records label. Jerry was reluctant to play in a blues record because he had never played blues before. It is a very well known and sought after record by blues collectors and those interested in South Louisiana music. He also was known to have played a few sessions with group members of  "The Boogie Kings." Jerry played the harmonica or the triangle occasionally with his father's group in contest at the regions most popular festivals in the mid to late 1960's such as The  Rice Festival in Crowley, LA, The Yambilee Festival in Opelousas LA, The Cotton Festival in Ville Platte, LA and The Acadian Music Festival in conjunction with Mamou Mardis Gras. He often competed in the Solo Harmonica division, finishing at the top or near top, usually competing head to head with legendary Cajun harmonica player Isom Fontenot, also hailing from the Mamou LA. area  (thought by many as the greatest Cajun harmonica player ever) who happened to be a good friend of his Dad, Amar, who also played music together. Isom's harmonica playing would later become an influence on the younger Devillier, even though they had different styles. Jerry, as previously mentioned, also played the accordion. Due to Jerry's humble nature you would never know that he was successful with that instrument as well, placing with top or near top finishes on several occasions at those same festivals in the Solo Accordion and Group Accordion divisions. At the Jambilee Festival in 1965, he performed as a "One Man Band". In doing so he simultaneously played the accordion, harmonica, and a foot base drum that garnered him a special recognition award and a second place finish behind Angulas Lejuene in the Solo Accordion Division. He then joined his father Amar's group along with Ed and Bee Deshotel to garner 1st place in the Group Division playing the harmonica and triangle simultaneously. In 1966, he won 1st place at the Cotton Festival in the Solo Accordion Division, besting regional legend Ambroise Thibodeaux and Joseph "Rigo" Fontenot, among others.. Jerry and Ambroise, along with Bee Deshotels then teamed up to win 1st place in the Group Division. For many years despite his disability, Jerry (as a volunteer) continues to put his talents to good use, dedicating his time teaching high school students video, audio, and production techniques for the "Rendez-Vous Des Cajuns" Cajun music radio & TV live shows at the Eunice Liberty Theater on Saturday nights. He was also involved as volunteer in the distribution of the Liberty Theater's show recordings. These recordings were sent to KDCG-TV and Acadiana Open Channel in Lafayette to be broadcast on Television. There is also copies for storage and preservation in conjunction with the C.F.M.A., U.L.L, and the City of Eunice to be available for public use. These DVD Liberty disc recordings are stored in the C.F.M.A National Cajun Music Hall of Fame in Eunice, La as well.  Most of this was done with his own equipment and expense according to former Eunice mayor  Curtis Joubert. In 1990, the State of Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism honored Jerry with a certificate of appreciation for his volunteer efforts. He has been at the Liberty Theater since the doors re-opened in 1982 and rarely missed a day in its operation. In 2005, he was honored jointly by the City of Eunice and the C.F.M.A Acadiana Chapter and was given a honorary Key to the City of Eunice, LA. He has been an ambassador to his Cajun heritage in many ways and an instrumental pioneer in the preservation of Cajun Music, like his father before him. This year the C.F.M.A. Lake Charles Chapter is stepping up to honor both Jerry and his father for their musical accomplishments and for their work in the preservation of  Cajun music and culture by inducting them into their Hall of Fame in November 2019. Congratulations to Jerry and to his family. Both artist are very well deserving. A special thank you to some folks who laid the groundwork for my research. Writer for "Bonnes Nouvelles" Publication Lisa McCauley for her very informative article on the Devilliers: "Recapturing a Fading History", Marc Savoy of Savoy Music Center for his articles on Newport Folk Festival, Flat Town Records, The microfilm archives and various articles from the The Eunice News, The Evangeline News, The Opelousas Daily World, The Baton Rouge Advocate, etc., author Rick Massimo of the book "I Got A Song: History of Newport Folk Festival", author Murphy Miller of the book "The Dominque Martel Family of Louisiana", author William J Thibodeaux of the book "Historic Tales of Acadiana", interviews and support from the mega-talented musicians and peers of Jerry from the organization S.P.A.H., particularly the ones mentioned in this article, area Cajun musicians Jamie Berzas, Jimmy Higginbothem, Tim Savoie, & Chris Miller for their help and input, friends and family members of Jerry.
UPDATE: November 10, 2019 Jerry was officially inducted into the CFMA Lake Charles Chapter Cajun Music Hall of Fame for his music and his important roll in the preservation of Cajun music. He was accompanied by good friend and master harmonica player Grant Dermody, together treating the audience with several old Cajun tunes. Thank You C.F.M.A Lake Charles Chapter and the folks at The Eunice News for their pre and post coverage of the induction of one of their own. In my opinion, as with the opinions of many others that knew of him as well, this is a justified and overdue award for his accomplishments. UPDATE: August 15, 2020 Jerry was awarded the prestigious "Lifetime Achievement Award" by a panel of his peers from S.P.A.H.,  the largest International harmonica organization, during their  convention. A huge honor! Well deserved.
Jerry 2010 La. Folk Roots Heritage Day, Chicot State Park
Newport Folk Festival 1965
1966 Cotton Festival 1st Place Accordion Division

1990 Trip to Noirt Festival in France
Highly collectible record by Blues and South Louisiana music enthusiast. Floyd Soileau of Floyd's Record Shop in Ville Platte, Louisiana asked Jerry to provide the guitar and harmonica background.
Jaimie Berzas of the band Cajun Tradition jamming with Jerry. Top picture is a performance at the Liberty Theater in Eunice, Louisiana. Picture at the bottom was a performance at the 2014 Mamou Cajun Music Festival honoring all-time great Cajun musician Isom Fontenot. Below is an attachment of a live audio performance which contains the songs by order of play, "The Back Door" and "The Calcasieu Waltz."    NOTE: There is an approximate 10 second delay before the audio starts playing.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TM3siWCqU7s

Preparing to embark on the historical trip to New York City to play in Central Park before their performance in front of large crowds at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.

CFMA Lake Charles Chapter  "Cajun Music City" Hall Of Fame Induction

Bio from 2012 S.P.A.H Convention Pamphlet. The convention was held in Dallas,Texas.
The place where the Cajuns were discovered! Cyprien and Adam Landreneau along with Jerry Devillier were playing on Revon Reeds live radio broad cast show when a talent scout for the famous Newport Folk Festival heard them while he was driving through the area. Though they were not the 1st group to attend in 1964 they did perform in 1965.







                                     Article from the Opelousas Daily World September 2012 on Jerry important                                                 contributions  to  the Liberty Theater in Eunice, Louisiana.

Jerry is an accomplished photographer known for his scenic photo's of the Cajun Culture from the Acadiana region.





Baton Rouge Morning Advocate 1989.
1965 Cotton Festival 1st Place Solo Harmonica Division







Above photo donated by Jerry and taken courtesy of Marc Savoy's 2021 book entitled "Made in Louisiana: The story of the Acadian accordion".