Hear Andrew Limbong's remembrance of Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural Jr. at the audio link, and read on for an obituary written by Mark Mobley.
Dural died of lung cancer at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lafayette, La. (In August, Cynthia Simien, an agent and manager who is married to zydeco musician Terrance Simien, and Dural's daughter Tomorrow Dural had started a GoFundMe account to defray Dural's medical expenses.)
Given the easy familiarity of the zydeco sound — accordion, washboard, a driving beat and infectious energy — in everything from pop music to TV commercials, it's sometimes difficult to remember that it was not always instantly recognized outside its home. In 1987, when Island Records, the home of U2, released the Buckwheat Zydeco album On A Night Like This, Dural became the first zydeco artist on a major label. This was just one milestone among decades of them in a career that included a Grammy award and performances at the 1996 Summer Olympics and President Bill Clinton's inaugural festivities. He played with musicians as varied as Eric Clapton, Yo La Tengo and the Boston Pops.
Dural, the son of amateur musicians — a singing mother and accordion-playing father — began his career on keyboards. He played R&B and funk until he sat in as organist with the band of one of his father's best friends, Clifton Chenier, "the king of zydeco."
"We played for four hours nonstop," Dural told Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon in 2009, "and he was telling people goodnight and I couldn't believe it. And I thought we had just got onstage; that's how much energy he had projected. I wound up staying with Clifton over two years. I said, 'Next band I get, I'll be playing accordion.'"
Dural took up the accordion in 1978 and founded Buckwheat Zydeco a year later. In 30 years of touring and recording, he took zydeco to unexpected physical and musical places. From his take on Bob Dylan's "On a Night Like This" for Australian TV in the '80s, to "Hey Joe" on David Letterman's Late Show in the '90s, to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in May, Dural was a welcoming presence who made his audiences happy.
"If you want to get respect, you've got to give respect," Dural told World Cafe host David Dye in 2009. "You got to be positive. You can't have no like positive-negative, positive-negative ... It's not like a car battery."
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Zydeco musician Stanley Dural Jr. has died. He was also known as Buckwheat.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
STANLEY DURAL JR: If you ready, can you say yeah? If you're feeling good, can you say hell yeah? Let's go and zydeco a little bit right here.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIEGEL: Dural brought a type of feel good party music that originated in southwest Louisiana to the rest of the world. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this remembrance.
ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Stanley Dural Jr. was a persuasive showman. He was the type of guy who would encourage folks to sing along even if they couldn't sing, to dance even if they didn't like dancing. He was also the type of guy who had his own nickname screwed onto his white accordion - Buckwheat, after the character on "Little Rascals."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT YOU GONNA DO")
DURAL: (Singing) Now what you going to do, what you...
TED FOX: The thing about Buck is that he had this incredible charisma and charm that was absolutely genuine.
LIMBONG: That's Ted Fox, a friend and manager of Dural's for 30 years. The band Buckwheat Zydeco opened for U2, played at the 1996 Summer Olympics and even a couple presidential inaugurals. But Dural always managed to stay grounded.
FOX: That touched people and is really at the essence of what Stanley Dural Jr. was - just a person who really hadn't changed, even with all of his success, from the little 5-year-old kid who grew up picking cotton in Lafayette.
LIMBONG: Lafayette, La., is where Stanley Dural Jr. was born and raised. His dad played accordion around the house. His mom sang. He said he had seven sisters and six brothers in a two-bedroom house, and he started playing music as a kid.
That part of Louisiana is also where zydeco music was created by black French Creole speakers. It's an accordion-based blend of R&B, blues, rock and these days hip-hop, according to Herman Fuselier, music and entertainment writer for The Lafayette Daily Advertiser and host of the radio show "Zydeco Stomp."
HERMAN FUSELIER: It's a big gumbo of music, and it's - it makes everybody happy. It's hard to sit still and be in a bad mood when you listen to zydeco music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT TAMALE BABY")
DURAL: (Singing) It's all right. It's all right.
LIMBONG: Fuselier says Dural showed people beyond Louisiana how much fun zydeco could be.
FUSELIER: He's a role model. Buckwheat showed how popular a zydeco musician could be not only at home but worldwide.
LIMBONG: He did that by touring a lot as he told NPR in 2009.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
DURAL: I get on the road maybe around 10 months out of the year, in and out, you know? I don't know how many dates I do because I mean I don't even think about it. This is what I do, and I love doing what I'm doing. You get out there, you know, see thousands of people and got smile on their faces. That's my reward - somebody's happy.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY MA PETIT FILLE")
DURAL: (Singing, unintelligible).
LIMBONG: Dural took playing and entertaining very seriously. And after more than 35 years of touring and playing shows, that meant he led the tightest band around, says Ted Fox.
FOX: You can't learn that. You either have it or you don't. And it came from Buck's leadership, and it came from the tremendous talent of all the guys that he had in his band.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL")
DURAL: (Singing) Hey everybody, let's have some fun. You only live once, and when you're dead, you're gone. So let it roll.
LIMBONG: Stanley Buckwheat Dural Jr. died Saturday from lung cancer. He was 68 years old. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL")
DURAL: (Singing) I'm going to have some fun. Come on let the good times roll. Now look here. Don't sit there mumbling... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.