Queen Ida

Every performance by Queen Ida and the Bon Temps Zydeco Band is a celebration! Everywhere she has taken her music, from Carnegie Hall to Tokyo, from Dakar to Lake Woebegone or from “Saturday Night Live” to “Austin City Limits,” people respond. They clap, they sing, they get moving and dancing, and they come back for more. Queen Ida’s audience is always diverse–young and old, Prairie Home Companion types, intellectual rock fans, members of the Cajun/Creole community, womens’ music fans and folk music enthusiasts. They come for Zydeco music and wind up spellbound by Ida’s exuberance.

Queen Ida was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana where French patois was the dominant language. She grew up hearing the French lullabies, Mardi Gras songs, and the waltzes and two steps at the Saturday night Fai do dos. Ida’s family were hard-working rice farmers. As a child, Ida helped cook for thirty or forty people, and later she often drove a tractor during the planting season. In the evening there was always someone with an accordion or a fiddle accompanied by a rub board, harmonica or triangle player. Homemade music was a major form of recreation and on the weekends there were usually several Zydeco dances to chose from.

In the mid 1940’s Ida moved to San Francisco with her family along with thousands of other Louisiana folks who felt an eight-hour shift in the shipyards beat a fifteen-hour day on the farm. Like the European immigrants who came to New York, they learned English and prospered, but they held onto many of their traditions, especially their Cajun/Creole language, music and food.

Raising her three children and driving a school bus was a full-time career for Ida until the mid 1970’s. Then as her children grew up, she pulled her accordion out of the closet and began to sit in with her brother Al Rapone’s band at a few of the French dances in San Francisco’s Creole community. At one such event, where Ida was the Queen of the Mardi Gras, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle dubbed her “Queen Ida.” The name stuck, and Ida’s career was launched.

Her initial touring success was in Europe, but when she won a Grammy Award in 1983 for her “On Tour” album, she soon began to spend about 200 nights a year on the road in the US and Canada. Always a family enterprise, the Queen Ida Band has featured two of her brothers, Al Rapone and Willie Lewis from time to time, and her younger son Ronald sitting in on rub board occasionally. Her husband, Ray, is the road manager, and her daughter Ledra helps with the adminstrative chores.

With the addition of her older son, Myrick “Freeze” Guillory, to the group, Ida not only can wail on some blazing mother-son dueling accordion pieces, but she can occasionally put down the squeeze box altogether and show off on the rub board. Myrick’s strong vocals, song writing ability and great accordion work are prominently featured on Ida’s current album.

Queen Ida’s audience is growing by leaps and bounds. Every year brings new opportunities for her in film, television and on the concert stage. Most remarkable of all however, is that despite her main stream acceptance, Ida is still sought after in the Creole community. This was dramatically demonstrated in January of 1989 when the band sold out a French dance at Verbum Dei School near Watts one night and played to a capacity crowd in Royce Hall at UCLA the next. Queen Ida has remained true to her roots while creating a high energy show with immense popular appeal.