In James Lee Burke’s novel Cadillac Jukebox, a New Orleans mob guy brings a gift to Detective Dave Robichaux. A jukebox filled with 45s of classic Cajun recordings from the 1940s and ’50s.
‘There were two recordings of “La Jolie Blon” in the half-moon rack, one by Harry Choates and the other by Iry LeJeune. I had never thought about it before, but both men’s lives seemed to be always associated with that haunting, beautiful song, one that was so pure in its sense of loss you didn’t have to understand French to comprehend what the singer felt. “La Jolie Blon” wasn’t about a lost love. It was about the end of an era.’ (p. 198)
I wondered who Iry LeJeune was. With Professor Google’s help, I found his musical significance and traced his family tree. His 5th great-grandparents are Jean-Baptiste LeJeune dit Briard and Marguerite Trahan of Cape Breton. In the 1750s deportation, they went to North Carolina, then Maryland, finally settling in Louisiana.
Iry LeJeune Family Tree
Ira LeJeune, called Iry, was born in Acadia Parish October 1928 to Agness and Lucy (Bellard) LeJeune. Agness’ parents, Ernest and Alicia, both had the surname LeJeune.
When a young boy, Iry learned to play the accordion from his cousin, uncle or great-uncle Angélas LeJeune, a well-known musician. I could find nothing on Angélas’ parents, but I think he may have been a great-uncle on Iry’s grandmother’s side.
In an interview, fiddler Milton Vanicor and his daughter explain their kinship with Iry. Milton’s wife Odile and Iry were double first cousins – a LeJeune sister and brother married a Bellard brother and sister.
Linda, M. Vanicor’s daughter, says Angélas was Iry’s great-uncle but doesn’t mention the same connection with her mother. When I saw Iry’s father’s mother was a LeJeune by birth, I wondered if Angélas might be her brother.
Milton Vanicor died June 5, 2015 at the age of 96. He was one of the last surviving Lacassine Playboys, the band he, his brothers and Iry formed in the 1940s. M. Vanicor was a veteran of the Battle of Iwo Jima. He played fiddle at festivals throughout the United States right up to his death.
Iry died in October 1955 age 28. Driving home after a gig, he was changing a flat tire when a passing car hit him.
He left a wife and five children. His other legacy was reviving the popularity of Cajun music and making the accordion central to it again.