Celebrities

He championed Zydeco music from Lafayette to the world’s stage

Keith Spera

The Advocate

Buckwheat Zydeco performs in the Blues Tent on the final day of the 2015 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Sunday, May 3, 2015.
Buckwheat Zydeco performs in the Blues Tent on the final day of the 2015 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Sunday, May 3, 2015. The Advocate

Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural Jr., the accordionist, organist, singer and songwriter who, as Buckwheat Zydeco, championed traditional southwest Louisiana Creole dance music on the world stage, died early Saturday morning of lung cancer at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lafayette. He was 68.

His longtime manager, Ted Fox, confirmed his death.

Dural's zydeco was firmly rooted in the dancehalls of his native Lafayette, but not confined to them. His ambition and reach were much broader.

His performance during the 1996 Summer Olympics closing ceremony was broadcast to a television audience reportedly in the billions. He was featured at both of President Bill Clinton’s inauguration celebrations. In February 2014, Jimmy Fallon selected him to open the final episode of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”; the host gleefully strummed a guitar alongside Dural’s glittering accordion.

He broke new ground for zydeco, both stylistically and commercially. In 1987, Island Records, home to the likes of U2 and Bob Marley, released Buckwheat Zydeco’s Grammy-nominated “On a Night Like This,” the first zydeco album on a major label. More recently, the globe-trotting Dural was the first zydeco bandleader with his own YouTube channel, Buckwheat’s World.

He was a “cultural ambassador in the truest sense,” said Michael Tisserand, author of the 1998 book “The Kingdom of Zydeco,” which will be reissued this fall with a new foreword by Dural. “He brought this traditional music to the biggest stage it ever enjoyed. It took someone with his talent, range, sense of showmanship and charisma to take it that far.

“He’d play songs by Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, and stretch the music beyond its original shape,” Tisserand said, “but always with the sense of celebration, excitement and cultural pride at the heart of zydeco.”

Stanley Dural Jr. was born in rural Lafayette in 1947, one of 13 children. His parents were farmers. In a video installment of Buckwheat’s World, he recounts how, as a 5-year-old, he would cry when his three older siblings left to work in the fields. They finally let him go along – to pick cotton.

“When I found out what they was doing out there, that was the worst mistake I ever made,” Dural said. “I did a lot of hard stuff coming up. I’m glad I did, 'cause this stuff” – making music – “is easy.”

His father, Stanley Dural Sr., was an amateur accordionist who played traditional Creole songs around the house. In his youth, Buckwheat – the nickname referred to his braided hair, which was reminiscent of the “Buckwheat” character in the old “Our Gang”/“The Little Rascals” comedy series – rebelled against his father’s music.

He took up piano, keyboards and the Hammond B3 organ and gravitated toward funk and rhythm & blues. After cutting his teeth in local clubs, he joined guitarist Paul “Lil Buck” Sinegal’s band, Lil Buck & the Topcats.

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