The story of the Savoy family begins in 1940 with the birth of my father, Marc Savoy, in Eunice, Louisiana. My grandfather, Joel Savoy, was absolutely enamored with Cajun music, but did not play a single note.
My father was never interested in the trends of the day. He spent his time hunting and learning the Cajun accordion. One day, his father walked into their home and heard accordion music coming from one of the rooms. He asked his wife Mabel, “Who’s playing that accordion?” She responded, “Go walk in that room over there and see for yourself.”
When he entered the room and saw his son playing accordion his eyes “got as big as two 50-cent pieces,” my dad recounts. From that day on his father looked at him differently and was proud of his accomplishments as an accordion player.
After graduating college with a degree in Chemical Engineering, he landed a job at a chemical plant. The very first day he pulled up to work and saw the traffic, or as he referred to it the “rat race.” They were all wearing suits and seemed depressed to be there. He spun the car around and left, never looking back.
Shortly after, he opened his very own music store, The Savoy Music Center on Hwy 190, east of Eunice. The Savoy Music Center is home to his workshop where he builds and repairs accordions as well as holds weekly Cajun Jams on Saturdays.
My mother, Ann Allen, was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1952. Her family was different from my father’s family in every possible way. Her mother, Mildred, was a sophisticated Virginian woman, whose family helped found the major US Clothing Company, Hanes. She, like the rest of the world in the 1970s, knew nothing of the wild, Cajun-French music and culture of Louisiana. My grandmother would have been shocked to ever imagine my mother settling down with a Cajun!
After the death of my mother’s father while she was a child, her mother felt the need to get away for a while. In the mid-60s, my mom and her older sister Jane traveled to Switzerland with their mother to spend a year studying abroad. The time spent in Europe inspired my mother to learn French.
Like every teenager in the 60s, my mom was infatuated with the Beatles (see picture of my mom and Paul McCartney, taken during a party in England). Later she would discover Cajun music in a record store back in Virginia. She learned about a diverse French culture in Louisiana and it was, “Move over Beatles, I want to learn more about this French culture down south."
My mom and dad met at the National Folk Festival at Wolftrap in Vienna, Virginia in 1976. My dad, 36 years old at the time, was playing at the festival with other Louisiana musicians. At some point during the festival, my parents danced together. While they were dancing my dad told my mom in French, “T’es picassé comme un orufe de dinde (You’re freckled like a turkey egg).” Those were the magic words that stole her heart away. It didn’t take long for them to fall in love, and only a year later, in 1977, they were married. Shortly after they became parents to three children-Sarah, born in 1978, followed by my brother Joel in 1980, myself, Wilson, in 1982 and finally Gabrielle, born in 1987.
Sarah is the first born child in the Savoy family. As a child she gravitated towards the piano and I remember hearing her practice and loving the sound of the piano. Her choice in piano, coupled with watching the movie, “Great Balls of Fire” about the story of Louisiana’s Jerry Lee Lewis, inspired me to want to learn piano.
Sarah graduated college with a degree in English and moved to Russia to teach English to children. Homesickness drew her closer to her French and Cajun roots. She moved to France in her late 20s and started a Cajun band in France with other French musicians who loved Cajun music. The band is a mix of traditional tunes, an intense “rock n’ roll” vibe and rockabilly instrument and singing styles.
She married her bass player and had a baby in 2009, the first, and to this date, only grandchild in the family. She fell in love with the accordion, and later switched from guitar to accordion in her band. She would also model in a calendar for “Accordion Babes,” later in her career. She wrote her own cookbook of incredible Cajun recipes which my younger sister Gabie, the great visual artist in the family, illustrated.
For the past seven years she’s been playing Cajun music, hosting Cajun cooking demonstrations and dance workshops, and giving conferences on Louisiana's francophone population, our history and our music throughout Europe.
Currently Sarah now owns a restaurant in Toulouse, France called Le Barbu that specializes in "la cuisine du sud-ouest" namely foie gras and other duck delicacies.
Joel Angelas Savoy, named after his paternal grandfather, has always been the strings guy in the family. He became incredibly inspired by fiddle and guitar as a young child and took violin lessons with his life-long friend, Linzay Young.
It’s safe to say by his early teenage years, Joel’s life was completely filled with music. Like most teenagers in the early 90s, Joel and his friends began a band similar to the musical stylings of Nirvana, going over to my dad’s outdoor kitchen to practice.
Joel graduated college with a degree in French and Math, and began a gypsy-western-swing band named “The Red Stick Ramblers” who had a great long run. Traveling heavy on the road wasn’t the life Joel wanted at the time, so he left the band and began his own recording label, Valcour Records, with friends Lucius A. Fontenot and Philipe Lafargue.
In 2011, Joel married an out-of-town girl by the name of Kelli Jones, who also comes from a musical family steeped in the North Carolina old-time traditions. He now spearheads his own Mardi Gras run in the country where we were born and raised, which has been running strong for 10 years.
When not traveling the road playing various festivals he produces albums for his record label in that same outdoor kitchen he played music in as a teenager that has been modified into a recording studio.
I was born in 1982 during the winter months, which may explain why I was a quiet introvert as a child. I was overly content not going out or playing with my siblings and their friends. I was happy at home in the country, jumping on the trampoline, playing piano and video games. My siblings and their friends recount that they knew I existed, but never saw or heard from me, except when they’d visit and I was banging on the piano.
I began playing piano when I was around 10 years old, taking lessons in classical piano, which I realized wasn’t for me. I couldn’t read the music and I was playing tunes I taught myself by ear, so my mother pulled me out and encouraged me to just teach myself. My parents bought a few instructional piano videos in the “Homespun” video series where I picked up a few boogie-woogie/rock n roll piano chops. I was pretty much an outcast in school, until one day, during a day of recollection where we were locked in a building and told to meditate and pray. I found a piano in a mall room and played it for my fellow students. They went wild, and from that day on, they respected me.
My glory moment in school came the day the principal asked if they could roll me and a piano on a wheeled cart in the gym and play “Great Balls of Fire” during a pep-rally. It was the most nerve-racking experience of my life, but one I’ll never forget.
I went to college and left with a minor in German, but much like classical piano, college wasn’t for me. The Cajun music bug bit me when I moved to Baton Rouge, and I became obsessed with accordion, and shortly after, the Cajun fiddle.
I started a Cajun band called the Pine Leaf Boys in 2005. I got expelled from the UL campus for playing music in public with the band, so we hit the road to tour out of the state and later the country.
I bought a 1920’s house in Lafayette at 23 and learned to hone my skills repairing it. By the age of 29, I took on the greatest project of my life, building my own home in Lafayette from the ground up. Like accordion, carpentry became a new obsession.
In 2013, my other band Courtbouillon with musicians Steve Riley and Wayne Toups, won a Grammy in the “Regional Roots” category.
I am still doing a lot carpentry and remodeling projects, expanding my knowledge from carpentry to electrical and plumbing. I am still touring with the Pine Leaf Boys and play from time to time with my other band Courbouillon.
Gabie was born 5 years after me in 1987, the fourth child in the family. While she loves music, she took a different path than the other three children. Her passion has always been visual art. Gabie honed her skills in photography, documenting our family’s Mardi Gras run and creating mixed media art, combining photographs with pencil drawings or cutouts.
Gabie moved to France when she was 24 years old and lived there for a year, learning French, studying art, and being an au pair, which is basically a traveling nanny in foreign countries.
Gabie continues to create art and work in photography and plans on returning to France.