Harry Choates

Dec. 26, 1922 - July 17, 1951           Port Arthur, Texas

Known as the "Godfather of Cajun Music" and “the Fiddle King of Cajun Swing," Harry Choates moved to Port Arthur, Texas in 1930's with his mother and began playing the fiddle in barbershops at age 12 for nickels thrown to him. He received little schooling, instead spending time in local bars listening to music on jukeboxes. By age 12, he started playing fiddle for spare change in barbershops.

 

He gained early professional experience playing in the bands of Leo Soileau and Leroy Leblanc, then split off to form his own group called the Melody Boys in 1946. His 1946 song "Jole Blon" was a top 10 hit (Billboard position #4) for Choates, was recorded under the Gold Star Records label. Since Goldstar could not keep up with the demand for "Jole Blon", the record was co-released under another label.  

 

Later, it was recorded by country singer Moon Mullican and became a major hit, but Choates had waived his rights to the song and was never compensated for its success. Other hits include "Basile Waltz," "Port Arthur Waltz," "Poor Hobo," and "Grand Mamou."

 

In the middle of 1951, Choates was found to be in contempt of court for failing to pay his child support. He spent three days in the Travis County Jail, at which time he began hitting his head against the bars of his jail cell, eventually knocking himself into a coma. The condition persisted for several days before Choates died of the effects of his alcoholism on July 17, 1951.

 

Choates is known as the "Parrain de la musique cajun" ("Godfather of Cajun music") mainly because of his introduction of vocal wailing throughout his music. In 2014, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Harry Choates' version of "Jole Blon" number 99 in their list of the 100 greatest country songs.

Harry Choates performs "Jole Blon".
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Museum Address: 700 Procter, Port Arthur, TX 77640

The Museum of the Gulf Coast is administered by the Port Arthur Historical Society in partnership with the City of Port Arthur.  

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