By JOSHUA CAFFERY
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is the new home to a half-century of recordings made by a pioneering south Louisiana folklorist.
Catherine Brookshire Blanchet developed one of the first substantial audio collections of folk songs from south Louisiana.
The Blanchet Collection of Acadiana Folklore includes 250 cassettes and reel-to-reel tapes on which she preserved traditional songs, slices of everyday life in rural Acadiana and events such as festivals.
Blanchet produced the recordings from the early 1940s through the mid-1990s. A small collection of photographs, films, newspaper articles, and research notes accompanies the sound materials.
The Blanchet family donated the trove to UL Lafayette’s Center for Louisiana Studies in October. Archivists are processing and cataloging the collection, and the recordings will be made accessible to the public digitally in coming months, said Dr. Joshua Caffery, the center’s director.
Caffery said Blanchet’s preservation work in the 1940s and 1950s preceded the Acadian renaissance by two decades. The period of renewed interest and pride in the region’s Cajun heritage began in the mid-1960s.
A native of Kaplan, La., Blanchet earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Newcomb College in New Orleans. According to her 2007 obituary, the new graduate “realized that the rich French culture of south Louisiana was in danger of being lost. (It) seemed that few saw the value in traditional culture, and she became determined to help preserve and perpetuate that heritage.”
While serving as the Vermilion Parish school system’s music supervisor, Blanchet recorded schoolchildren singing French songs during recesses. She then traveled to remote parts of the region to document adults singing folk songs in their homes, unaccompanied by music.
Those recordings were the basis for her 1955 book, “Les Danses Rondes,” a collection of Acadian folk songs and round dances, in which participants promenade in a ring. The book’s co-author was Maria del Norte Theriot.
Blanchet’s recordings and written notes also documented interview subjects describing dance steps and explaining traditional methods of spinning and weaving cloth.
She later earned a master’s degree in musicology from the University in 1970, and used the recordings she made of schoolchildren three decades earlier as primary sources for her thesis. The recordings and completed thesis are included in the material Blanchet’s family donated to UL Lafayette.
Caffery said the Blanchet collection fills “a major gap in the study of French folk song and dance in southern Louisiana. This collection is an important new resource for musicians, Louisiana studies scholars, French language educators, educational theorists, and folk music and dance scholars, in general.”
Dr. Jordan Kellman, dean of the University’s College of Liberal Arts, noted that, in addition to Blanchet’s preservation work, she also was an early advocate for French language and other cultural education in the region’s schools. The college oversees the Center for Louisiana Studies.
“One of the five areas of special focus for the University in the Louisiana Board of Regents Master Plan is, ‘Louisiana arts, culture, and heritage programs and research, including a focus on Cajun and Creole cultural traditions.’ The Blanchet collection will open vital new doors to research in those exact areas,” Kellman said.
The Center for Louisiana Studies is on the third floor of Edith Garland Dupré Library on campus.