From early recordings as far back as 1929, zydeco is the music made famous by Creole and French-speaking African Americans in southwest Louisiana.
Rhythms rich with African-Caribbean and French flavors, this music blends cajun, jazz, and creole folk music with the unmistakable accordion as the frontman. Impossible to sit and remain still when listening, this lively music gets people up and dancing.
Follow along as we listen to the sounds and delve into 11 of the greatest and most famous zydeco bands and their styles. Let’s get started.
1. Clifton Chenier & The Zydeco Ramblers
Dubbed the King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier grew up in a family of musicians in the Lake Charles, Louisiana, area. After learning to play the harmonica, piano, and organ in his youth, he toured with Clarence Garlow, developing his style over time.
The invention of the scrub board, or washboard, is attributed to the Chenier family. The scrub board is essential in zydeco sound and is simply a section of corrugated metal played by rubbing spoons or other objects over it.
With his band, the Zydeco (sometimes spelled as Zodico) Rambler and later the Red Hot Louisiana Band, Chenier released over 112 songs and 22 albums.
He was the first creole musician to win a Grammy and loved performing live. Chenier’s most recognized song is “Zydeco Sont Pas Sale.” Loose translation? “The snap beans are not salty.”
2. Buckwheat Zydeco & The Ils Sont Partis Band
Ask anyone about zydeco music and the name Buckwheat Zydeco & The Ils Sont Partis Band (though they’re best known simply as Buckwheat Zydeco) springs from people’s lips, and with good reason: Three of the largest-selling Zydeco albums belong to the group.
For thirty years, their music brought zydeco to mainstream music for all to experience. Collaborating with top performers such as U2 and Eric Clapton, Buckwheat Zydeco also performed on the Tonight Show, President Clinton’s inaugurals, and the closing ceremonies for the 1996 summer Olympics.
In September 2016, Stanley Dural Jr., the legendary man behind Buckwheat Zydeco, passed away, and the music world paid tribute to this fantastic and influential musician.
3. BooZoo Chavis & The Magic Sounds
Wilson Anthony Chavis—known better as BooZoo Chavis—learned to play the accordion as a young boy growing up in the Lake Charles region of Louisiana. After recording his first song, “Paper in My Shoe,” in 1954, BooZoo released three more songs and didn’t record again for 20 years.
During the 1990s, he often played with his band, the Magic Sounds (sometimes spelled “Majic Sounds”). With them, he made several appearances at music festivals across the US.
Chavis was best known for his use of the button accordion and eclectic playing style, changing chords randomly, alternating his singing between French and English, and dropping beats or adding them on a whim.
4. Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience
A list of Zydeco musicians would only be complete by mentioning Terrance Simien. Terrance is an eighth-generation Lousiana Creole. After teaching himself to play the accordion, he started performing in zydeco clubs in the region.
Together with his band, the Zydeco Experience, they toured worldwide, released nine albums, and became winners of two Grammy awards with over 10,000 concerts across 45 countries.
In 2009, Terrance Simien won the hearts of young children worldwide with his performance on “Gonna Take You There” from Disney’s animated film, The Princess and the Frog.
5. Zydeco Force
Consisting of Robby Robinson, Raymond Thomas, brothers Shelton, and Jeffery Broussard, and their cousin Herbert Broussard, Zydeco Force led a funky blend of rock and zydeco music from 1989 to 2008.
After being featured in the soundtrack for the German film, Schultze Gets the Blues in 2003, Zydeco Force was propelled into the limelight. They became an even greater hit as they performed live at music festivals and other events from coast to coast.
Their song “B-Flat” and “Hey Madeline” are still played in dance halls across Texas and Louisiana. In the almost two decades Zydeco Force was active, the band released seven albums.
6. Dwayne Dopsie & The Zydeco Hellraisers
The Zydeco Hellraisers, fronted by Dwayne Dopsie, is one of the more famous zydeco groups in Louisiana. The group is known to mix a bluesy feel and saxophone tracks into their American Creole zydeco style.
Dopsie’s father, the infamous Rockin’ Dopsie, is the main influence on the frontman’s successful group. Rockin’ taught his eight children to love and respect the Creole lifestyle and instilled a love of zydeco music in each of them.
A 2018 Grammy nominee for Best Regional Roots Music Album, Dwayne Dopsie, and the Zydeco Hellraisers continue to tour the globe to this day.
7. C.J. Chenier & The Red Hot Louisiana Band
Another Chenier zydeco legend is C.J. Chenier, son of Clifton Chenier. If his father was the King of Zydeco, then C.J. is the prince. He learned to play the saxophone and accordion when he was young.
In 1978, he joined the Red Hot Louisiana Band upon his father’s invitation, and when Clifton passed away in 1987, C.J. took over as the frontman of the group, carrying on the music legacy his father started.
Since then, they’ve released five albums and toured extensively, ensuring that the zydeco legacy C.J.’s father started continues to live on.
8. John Delafose & The Eunice Playboys
Opelousas, Louisana, is a hotbed of musical talent and the starting place of zydeco legend John Delafose. Together with his band, the Eunice Playboys, their music blended early Creole style zydeco—rich with two-step rhythms and French lyrics—with bluesy country rock popular with modern-day music lovers.
Delafose was a talented musician, skilled in playing the accordion, the harmonica, and the fiddle. Rare in zydeco music, he often sometimes played the latter instrument in his pieces.
Well-known for the song “Uncle Bud Zydeco,” John Delafose and the Eunice Playboys continued to produce magic with their unique sound until 1994 when Delafose passed away at the age of 55.
9. Chubby Carrier & The Bayou Swamp Band
Next up, we have the Bayou Swamp Band, fronted by Joseph Roy Carrier (known by his stage name Chubby Carrier). Their album Zydeco Junkie won a Grammy for Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album in 2011, and they have never stopped playing their dance-inducing, foot-stomping flavor of the genre.
Collaborations with other zydeco artists, such as Geno Delafose and Jamie Bergeron, expanded the sound and reach of Carrier and his band, creating an even larger fanbase.
Having released ten recordings over a 22-year span, Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band continues to tour through the US.
10. Rosie Ledet & The Zydeco Playboys
Church Point, Louisiana, saw the world spark brightly with the birth of Mary Roszela Bellard in 1971. Later known as Rosie Ledet, she took the stage with her band, the Zydeco Playboys, and got crowds on their feet with her seductive lyrics over zydeco tunes.
Her inspiration and love of zydeco come from watching BooZoo Chavis perform live. At one of Chavis’s performances, Rosie met her husband, Morris Ledet.
Rosie’s distinctive voice, with its bluesy, sultry depth, is unforgettable. Combined with top-notch songs written by Ledet, all eleven of Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys’ albums have a place on the shelf of zydeco aficionados everywhere.
11. Queen Ida & The Bon Temps Band
Last but not least on our list, we have Ida Lewis Guillory with her group, the Bon Temps Band. Born in 1929, this singer morphed into Queen Ida when she was crowned Queen of the Mardi Gras in 1975.
Notably, Queen Ida is the first female leader of a zydeco band and a fierce Louisiana Creole accordionist.
Breaking into the public eye in 1975, she and the Bon Temps took the stage at the Monterey Jazz Festival the following year and in 1988. They also performed in the San Francisco Blues Festival several times.
After touring Japan, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand in the 1990s, Queen Ida officially retired in 2010. Now the zydeco queen enjoys cooking and publishing cookbooks.
Summing Up Our List Of Popular Zydeco Bands
Zydeco brings to life the Creole traditions with the unmistakable sound of the accordion, harmonicas, saxophones, guitars, and an occasional trumpet, all intertwining to fill the soul with the heart of deep Louisiana.
From the early sounds of BooZoo Chavis through the modern style of Dwayne Dopsie, zydeco is rich with history, customs, and passion.
There are countless zydeco performers, each with their own style and message. This list serves to guide you on a journey of the most beloved performers and their top songs, creating a desire to hear and experience more of the Creole culture.