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Friday, March 5, 2021

Houston zydeco star Corey Ledet discovers a big family tree

Houston zydeco star Corey Ledet discovers a big family tree

A friend's housekeeping helped uncover a musical history, much of which was unknown to him.

March 5, 2021

by Andre Dansby

Zydeco musician and Houston native Corey Ledet (Photo: Kristie Cornell)

Corey Ledet’s new album, “Cory Ledet Zydeco,” started with a little housekeeping. The Houston native and accordionist received a call from his friend, Louis Michot, fiddler in the Lost Bayou Ramblers. Michot was dusting some books in his home when a biography about the great Louisiana jazz trumpeter Bunk Johnson fell to the floor and into an open position. Michot noticed one of the pages mentioned a Gabriel Ledet. He called his friend to see if Gabriel was kin, and later shared his book with Ledet.

“I started reading it and recognized all the names in the book,” Ledet says. “My great-grandfather played upright bass with Bunk Johnson. I kept reading and found cousins like Harold Potier was a music teacher who played trumpet. His son was John, a piano player who worked with B.B. King. His other son was Bobby Bland’s drummer. There was a lot of family in there.”

The album “Cory Ledet Zydeco” was born with that revelation. Ledet knew he grew up in a musical family, but the breadth of his family’s contribution to music that spanned Houston to New Orleans remained out of focus to him.

“From the late-1800s to the early 1900s, early ragtime, early jazz, all this Black music was starting to come up,” Ledet says. “And it turns out my family had ties to all of this. They did their part to help develop it. People talk a lot about the music of New Orleans because it’s such a rich tradition. But there were also these incredible rural musicians playing in places far outside New Orleans. The book said that Bunk Johnson liked playing with these rural musicians because the players in the city did written-down sheet music. Bunk liked to improvise more.” 

Ledet said the book put him “on Cloud 9. Just having this documented for me. I’ve heard stories for years. But sometimes the stories don’t sound quite right. This was different, it felt like proof of my connection to this music.”


Though Ledet was born and raised in Houston, his family spread out from Parks, La., just east of Lafayette, which is where many of his family members would have started playing music. One distant cousin played cornet alongside a then-unknown Louis Armstrong. Ledet’s grandfather, Buchanan Ledet, was an innovative drummer who played with King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier, and Rockin’ Dopsie. Ledet’s father and one uncle were both drummers, and other family members played piano, harmonica, trumpet and cornet.

As a kid, Ledet would accompany his family in the summer when they’d visit Louisiana. There he picked up the Kouri-Vini regional dialect, which can be heard on “Corey Ledet Zydeco,” most notably in a reimagining of the Fats Domino standard “I’m Walking” as “Mo MarcheE.”

By age 10, he was playing accordion with Wilbert Thibodeaux and the Zydeco Rascals. He clearly absorbed the sounds of Chenier, renowned in east Texas for pushing and pulling the blues from his accordion. Ledet found his way back to Louisiana, though the arc between east Texas and Louisiana is at the heart of his art and work.

“Corey Ledet Zydeco” turned out to be a bit of a strange release for late 2020. So much of the music Ledet draws from is dance music, and the album plays to that vibe: Tunes like “Flip, Flop and Fly” present an invitation to shuffle one’s feet from its first to its last notes. And the mix is far flung, including “It’s Gonna Be Alright,” which sounds almost like a zydeco-ska hybrid.

That said, it wasn’t quite complete when the pandemic shut things down, so some of the songs are sparer than they might have been otherwise.Ledet introduces “Nina’s Hot Step” by addressing the pandemic directly: “I’m gonna finish off this album by myself,” he says, “by my lonesome,” before letting his fingers go to work.

The two experiences — a deep dive into his familial past and the pandemic-inspired solo work — clearly left an impression upon Ledet. He suggests new songs will surface sooner rather than later.

“The album really opened me up as far as this connection, spiritual connection to my ancestors,” he says. “And I also have all this new information I’ve found since I made the record. I’m still working to learn the language, of course, so I can be as fluent as possible. So I think I’ll be able to incorporate a lot more into what I do in the future.”

 Houston zydeco star Corey Ledet discovers a big family tree
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