A ukulele wasn’t what the young Barbara Lynn expected.
It was an innocent mistake on the part of Lynn’s mother, who was trying to buy her young grade-school daughter a guitar. So the girl in Beaumont, Texas dutifully tried to learn how to play the instrument that made Tiny Tim famous, before switching to piano. The piano didn’t feel right, either. At church on Sundays, women always played the piano, and Lynn wanted to try something different. Her siren call was her transistor radio; in the mid-50s, the airwaves brought her the explosive voice of sultry Chicago soul and blues belter Etta James, the slurred, intoxicating guitar playing of Jimmy Reed and the plaintive, single-note phrasing of B.B. King. Those were the sounds that Barbara Lynn wanted to make, and eventually her parents relented and bought her a guitar.
Lynn’s mother and father were from Arnaudville, and every summer the young Lynn would leave Beaumont and spend her summers in Lafayette and Acadiana. “My cousin from Arnaudville, he’d teach me the guitar licks,” says Lynn in a telephone interview from her Beaumont home. “I stopped being interested in the piano and he already knew how to play the blues, and I’d always ask him to show me things on the guitar. I knew that I wanted to play this instrument. It was an odd instrument for a girl to play, but I wanted to try it. And it paid off.”
It’s still paying off. Lynn, who plays Lafayette’s Grant Street Dancehall this Friday with blues guitarist Sue Foley, dobro player Cindy Cashdollar, bassist Sarah Brown and drummer Lisa Pankratz for the season finale of Louisiana Crossroad’s eighth season, is a trailblazer who broke through in the male-dominated formative years of rock ’n’ roll. As a young African-American woman playing guitar left-handed, she conjured up images of a female Jimi Hendrix. Yet in her songs, craftsmanship and personality, Lynn has always defied labels and stereotypes in her music and the music business. She’s never smoked, drank, or done drugs. After she got married, she vanished from the music scene in the 1970s for more than a decade to raise her three children. Now at the age of 66, she’s a doting grandmother — and prepping to go into the studio next month to record a brand-new album for famed blues label Antone’s from Austin, Texas.
Lynn is also one of the most inspiring examples of the rich musical exchange between Louisiana and Texas. I-10 helped shaped the sound and careers of Clifton Chenier, Doug Kershaw, Marcia Ball, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Delbert McClinton and more, and Lynn knows that territory as well as anyone. She was a Creole girl raised in Beaumont, discovered by a renowned Cajun swamp singer and Cajun record producer, and recorded her breakthrough single in the famed New Orleans studio where Fats Domino created his biggest hits. For that and more, Lynn earned the nickname “The Empress of Gulf Coast Soul.” And she did it by rocking the world at the tender age of 20.
Louisiana Crossroads Season 8 Finale: Barbara Lynn, Sue Foley, Cindy Cashdollar, Sarah Brown and Lisa Pankratz
Wednesday, March 12, Central School Theater,
Lake Charles, 7 p.m.
Thursday, March 13, 2008, Manship Theatre, Baton Rouge, 7 p.m.
Friday, March 14, 2008 Grant Street Dancehall, Lafayette, 8 p.m.
For more info or to purchase tickets, visit LouisianaCrossroads.org or call (337) 233-7060.
Ponderosa Stomp, April 29-30, New Orleans (for more info, visit www.ponderosastomp.com)
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