Jo-El Sonnier

Born: Oct. 2, 1946 in Rayne, La.

Jo-El Sonnier grew up in a family of poor, French-speaking sharecroppers. He began to play the accordion at three years of age. Singing only in French, he had his first radio debut at the age of 6 and his first recording session at 11. A favorite in local clubs, Sonnier decided to try his luck at recording country music and in 1974, signed a recording contract with Mercury Records.

 

Commercial success eluded him. After four years in Nashville, he moved to California, where he began performing solo shows with his friends, including guitarist Albert Lee and The Band's Garth Hudson. By the mid-1980s, Jo-El had a Grammy-nominated recording to his credit with Cajun Life. Recognition combined with the album's success allowed Sonnier to fuse his deep Cajun roots with country, rock, and other pop influences. In 1987, a new recording contract with RCA Records produced “Come On Joe” and other top 10 hits, including "Tear-Stained Letter" and "No More One More Time."

 

Jo-El became a session player in Nashville and his accordion can be heard on numerous songs including those of Alan Jackson, Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Sammy Kershaw, Dolly Parton, and Hank Williams, Jr. Jo-El also plays bass guitar, acoustic guitar, drums and harmonica. As a songwriter, he has had songs recorded by Johnny Cash, George Strait, and Jerry Lee Lewis. In 2015, Jo-EL won his first Grammy for his album "The Legacy" as the "Best Regional Roots Music Album of the Year."

 

Sonnier has also done his share of film acting. His credits include roles in Mask and A Thing Called Love. With three Grammy nominations for his French recordings, Sonnier continues to record and perform his traditional music. He was inducted into the Museum of the Gulf Coast, Music Hall of Fame in 2002. 

Jo-El Sonnier sings "Tear Stained Letter."
Tex Ritter Portrait