J.d. Miller and Abe Manuel talk about Harry Choates

Record producer J.D. Miller and Cajun musician Abe Manuel talk with Chris Strachwitz about the legendary cajun fiddler Harry Choates.

Harry Choates was a complete musician and entertainer. All of his life he ate, drank, and slept music. It is sometimes difficult to unravel the facts and myths surrounding the life and times of the man who immortalized Jole Blon, a song many Cajuns claim as their national anthem. Harry was born in Rayne, La., on December 26, 1922. He had no formal education o r musical training and he spoke English with a heavy Cajun accent. Harry learned to play tl1e fiddle, guitar, steel guitar, and “an Abbeville air compressor,” as he called it, or as non-Cajuns would call it – an accordion. Harry Choates never owned a musical instrument. The fiddle music he made famous was played on a borrowed fiddle tl1at he never returned.

Harry began to receive fan mail, none of which he ever answered. He had a naive innocence about himself and said he was only interested in making people happy. According to his daughter Linda Choates Cable, “My daddy just loved people with an almost childlike trust,” and several people told the story that in order to get Harry to come back to the studio to record more tunes, Bill Quinn had to promise him a studio full of people who would be there just to enjoy his music. With Jole Blon a hit (he sold the rights to the recording for $50 and a fifth of whiskey, which actually was pretty generous by 1946 standards), Harry recorded other popular French songs such as Allons A Lafayette, Big Mamou and Poor Hobo along with fiddle and swing specialties. His music was directed at the dancing audience, it had good rhythm and was just right. Harry even danced as he played fiddle.

– Chris Strachwitz from the notes for Fiddle of Cajun Swing – Harry Choates (Arhoolie CD 308)

J.D. Miller and Abe Manuel talk with Chris Strachwitz about Harry Choates 

  • J.D. Miller and Abe Manuel talk about Harry Choates 00:00
Interviewees: J.D. Miller and Abe Manuel
Interviewer: Chris STrachwitz
Location: Louisiana
Language: English

To learn more about Harry Choates, listen to his interview in the Ann Savoy Collection

This is an interview originally recorded for research purposes. It is presented here in its raw state, unedited except to remove some irrelevant sections and blank spaces. All rights to the interview are reserved by the Arhoolie Foundation. Please do not use anything from this website without permission.

Thanks to Wade Falcon with his help identifying the people and places in the photographs below.

Statement on the passing of Chris Strachwitz

Arhoolie Records Founder
July 1, 1931 – May 5, 2023

We celebrate the life of our founder, friend, and great record man Chris Strachwitz. He died peacefully at home in Marin County, CA, surrounded in his last days by dear friends and family. Over his 91 years, Chris captured the music that represents the best “down home music” the world has to offer.

He was at the forefront of nearly all the roots revivals over the last 60 years including blues, zydeco, Cajun, Norteño and Tejano music. His drive to document traditional music helped introduce the nation to our diverse musical heritage. He had the foresight to save music that might have otherwise been lost to obscurity and played a role in strengthening cultural traditions through his records, films, and most recently the Arhoolie Foundation. He cared for those around him, fought for royalties and recognition for Arhoolie artists, and provided counsel to countless musicians, writers, film makers, and academics.

Plans for a public celebration of his life will be announced in the coming weeks. Today we’re thinking of all that Chris brought to our lives and the lives of the musicians and fans with whom he shared his passion.