D.L. Menard, an ambassador for Cajun music and culture whose song “The Back Door” is among the most popular in the genre, has died at 85.
Menard died Thursday at his home in Scott, La., said Louisiana Funeral Services and Crematory in Broussard on its website.
Including covers by other artists, the Cajun French song has sold more than 1 million copies over the decades, according to Floyd Solieau, whose Swallow Record Co. released “La Porte en Arriere” as a single in July 1962.
Over the decades, Menard became the face and voice of Cajun music, traveling to dozens of countries on State Department tours. Speaking with the Associated Press in late June, he said the resurgence of Cajun culture in the last few decades made him feel “terrific. Because that was us. It was us.”
“The Back Door” is a jaunty ditty about a man who gets so drunk he sneaks home through the back door.
During a July 2 tribute to Menard and the song’s 55th anniversary, folklorist and retired French professor Barry Jean Ancelet said “La Porte en Arriere,” not “Jolie Blon'” should be considered the Cajun national anthem.
“‘Jolie Blon’ is a song about a girl who went to Texas. ‘La Porte’ is about a guy who slips back in at home through the back door,” he said. “Now I ask you – which one best describes us Cajuns?”
Moreover, he said, nearly every youngster who wants to play Cajun music learns “The Back Door.”
Although Menard wrote “The Back Door” in the Cajun French he grew up speaking, he used English phonics because when he was a boy, teachers punished students for speaking the dialect at school, rather than teach them how to read and write French.
“Sometimes you were paddled. You were whipped,” Menard said. “Oh, yeah. You had to speak English.”
Menard was sometimes called the Cajun Hank Williams, and the country singer was among his heroes. He spoke briefly with Williams once at a performance in New Iberia.
“He told me, ‘When you write a song, you pretend it’s happening to you.’ … And the next record I done that. And I’ll be darned if he wasn’t right,” Menard said.
In his spare time, Menard made chairs and rockers to supplement his income.
Menard performed for the last time in public at the July 2 tribute in Erath, his hometown. Though he had to be helped across the stage and he performed from a wheelchair, his voice was still firm and strong as he sang “The Back Door” and many other songs.
Menard’s albums were twice nominated for Grammy Awards. “Le Trio Cadien,” which he recorded with Eddie LeJeune and Ken Smth, was nominated for best traditional folk album in 1993. His “Happy Go Lucky,” with songs including “Les Fous de la Campagne” (The Crazy People of the Country) and “La Lumiere Dans du Cimetiere” (The Light in the Graveyard), was nominated for best zydeco or Cajun album in 2010.
Menard is in the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and the Cajun Music Hall of Fame, and in 1994 he was named a national heritage fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts.
McConnaughey writes for Associated Press
Times music critic Randy Lewis contributed to this report.
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