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Singer brings l’Esprit Creole

By JACK W. HILL SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published May 1, 2014 at 2:23 a.m.

dennis-stroughmatt

Dennis Stroughmatt

Fiddle player and singer Dennis Stroughmatt sings in French, although he doesn’t hail from Louisiana or even Quebec. He says he grew up in the foothills of the Ozarks but he means the Missouri Ozarks.

“I had grown up in Vincennes, Ind., with kids who had French names,” Stroughmatt says. “And I was always interested in history, and when I went to college at Southeast Missouri State University, I would talk to one of the professors about the great architecture there in Cape Girardeau and nearby Ste. Genevieve and in Cahokia, Ill., and he told me all about the places in the eastern edge of the Ozarks, in towns like Potosi and Old Mines, Mo.”

“So I went all around there to look around and found out French was still spoken, and a group called the Catholic Parish Workers would host local house parties that featured French singing and fiddle players, so I started going. And I spent the next three years going there almost every weekend, sleeping on people’s couches and hanging out with folks in their 60s, 70s and 80s, learning to speak their language.”

During his time in the hamlets of the Missouri Ozarks, Stroughmatt also learned to play fiddle and absorbed music that was a blend of Celtic, Canadian and old-time country sounds. He sings only in French, but provides context with stories between songs that he reckons have, in some cases, several centuries of being passed down.

Many French-speaking Ozarkians refer to their area as Upper Louisiana, noting that Missouri, like Arkansas, was part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

“A lot of the fiddle tunes we do need no introduction,” he says. “We do a couple of originals, but there are so many good traditional tunes that we mostly focus on those. We might throw in something people might recognize as songs made famous by Hank Williams or Webb Pierce, which are great favorites at house parties in those little Ozark towns.”

His backing group, l’Esprit Creole (The Creole Spirit), consists of guitarist Doug Hawf and stand-up bassist Rob Krumm.

Saturday’s Little Rock Folk Club show will be the first Little Rock performance for Stroughmatt, who also performs with Creole Stomp, in which he plays accordion. He remembers having performed near Hot Springs, when he played drums for The Plummer Family, a country act that was based in Branson.

Dennis Stroughmatt et l’Esprit Creole 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Little Rock Folk Club, Thomson Hall, Unitarian Universalist Church, 1818 Reservoir Road, Little Rock Admission: $15; $8 for students with IDs; free for accompanied children 12 and under (501) 663-0634 littlerockfolkclub.org

Weekend, Pages 34 on 05/01/2014

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