Brought To You By NSU; Written by David West
A traditional crafts person and five musicians were inducted into the Louisiana Folklife Center’s Hall of Master Folk Artists during an induction ceremony held at Northwestern State University on Saturday, July 22 as part of the 43rd Annual Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival. Inductees included cultural authority and traditional crafter Rhonda Gauthier, who also served as honorary Festival Chair; the Broussard Family Juré group and country musician Hugh Harris.
Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the Louisiana Folklife Center at NSU, led the induction ceremony, assisted by Cherry Perkins, Ms. 2023 Avoyelles Arts and Music Festival Queen, and Jace Jordan, Miss 2023 Avoyelles Arts and Music Festival Queen.
Honorary Festival Chair and inductee Rhonda Gauthier is an Adeasonos and member of the Choctaw-Apache Tribe of Ebarb and president of the Ho Minti Society, Inc. As a young girl growing up outside of Zwolle, she began learning from the women in her immediate and extended family traditional arts such as crochet, embroidery, hand sewing, quilting, cooking, baking, and animal tending. Her grandmother taught her midwifery, the use of natural herbs to treat common ailments, and herb gardening. Everything she learned as a young girl followed her through to adulthood.
After earning a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and History from Northwestern State, she worked in the fields of research, genealogy and history, first part-time as a cultural interpreter at Fort St. Jean Baptiste, and later as a full-time interpretive ranger at Nuestra Senora de Pilar de Los Adaes and Fort Jesup State Historic Site. In 2005, she produced the film “Maize to Masa,” which documents the Choctaw-Apache process of nixtamalization. Since 1994, she has worked closely with the Choctaw-Apache Tribe of Ebarb, consulting, researching genealogy, grant writing, working with the Rising Sun Youth, and serving on powwow and tribal recognition committees.
The Broussard Sisters are performers of African American juré, a folk music genre described by ethnographer Alan Lomax as “the most African sound I found in America.” The Sisters perform juré as a way of expressing their connection to their families and culture. Sandra Broussard Davis, the head of the group, is a former teacher with extensive experience teaching dance. Davis learned juré from her mother and aunts through observation and, later, participation in the family’s traditions. She has been practicing juré since she was a young child and has continued to perform for over 45 years. The Broussard Sisters make a point to go to as many folk festivals as possible in an effort to keep the tradition of classic zydeco and juré dancing alive. In 2018, The Broussard Sisters performed in the Acadiana Center for the Arts theater for International Women’s Day. The group was recognized by the Louisiana Folklife Commission as tradition bearers carrying on a Creole art form that is now only performed by a few people.
Harris was born in Baton Rouge. By his early school years, he had discovered early country music in general—and the works of Hank Williams in particular—and was singing and performing in church and at local gatherings. After graduating high school, he appeared at writers’ nights and gave other performances at clubs in Nashville, Tennessee, eventually becoming recognized as a songwriter with appearance credentials at the world-famous Blue Bird Café. He attended Northeast Mississippi Community College, graduating with an Associate Degree in Country Music. While there, he was a member of NEMCC’s traveling band, Campus Country.
In 1998, he made the acquaintance of Terry Huval and other members of the Jambalaya Cajun Band, and together they have performed at other venues and festivals, delivering music distinctly reminiscent of the early days of country, honky-tonk and western swing music. The collaboration also led to the writing and production of a stage play based on the life of Hank Williams, that has been performed in multiple theaters around the state. Hugh has appeared with such Louisiana musical legends as D.L. Menard, and Jo-el Sonnier; performed with Don Helms, Hank Williams’ legendary steel guitar player, as well as other musicians who had previously traveled and played as members of Hank’s bands; and done shows with the likes of Gene Watson, Don Williams, John Anderson, Loretta Lynn and George Jones.
There are now 127 members in the Hall of Master Folk Artists, which was started in 1981. This year’s festival theme was “Celebrating Louisiana’s Cultural Gumbo.” The festival is held annually in air-conditioned Prather Coliseum on the Northwestern State University campus. Next year’s festival, to be held on July 20, 2024, will recognize many artists young and old who are keeping tradition alive in Louisiana, and will include performers such as bluesman D.K. Harrell, the Forest Huval Band, the Victory Belles, the Willie Stewart Family and Friends Bluegrass Group, and the Zion Harmonizers, as well as the annual Louisiana State Fiddle Championship. For more information, call the Louisiana Folklife Center at (318) 357-4332, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or online at http://louisianafolklife.
Support for the festival was provided by grants from the Cane River National Heritage Area, Inc., the City of Natchitoches, the Louisiana Division of the Arts Decentralized Arts Fund Program, the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, the Louisiana Office of Tourism, the Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, the Shreveport Regional Arts Council and the State of Louisiana.
Support also came from generous sponsorships from Bank of Montgomery, City Bank & Trust, Clear Water Pools & Spas, the City of Natchitoches, Cleco, Domino’s Pizza, the Donut Hole, Exchange Bank, Georgia’s Gift Shop, Grayson’s Barbecue, the Harrington Law Firm, International Paper, Jeanne’s Country Garden, the Jena Choctaw Band of Indians, Little Caesars, Mama’s Oyster House, McGee’s Patio Café, Merci Beaucoup Restaurant, the Natchitoches Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Natchitoches Wood Preserving, OLS Cookie Jar, Pelican’s Post Too, Piggly Wiggly, Raising Cane’s, Southern Classic Fried Chicken, Super 1 Foods Natchitoches 604 and 613, Trail Boss Steakhouse, Walmart, Waste Connections and Weaver Brothers Land & Timber.