SInce its inception in 2000, this groundbreaking and innovative, high quality multicultural performing arts program has reached over 500,000 K-12 and college students, parents and educators at schools, art centers and festivals around the globe! This unique program has informed and engaged student, youth and family audiences in Australia, Mali, Paraguay, Seychelles, Dominican Republic, Russia, Ukraine and all over the United States and Canada. The companion CD is a wonderful collection of stories and original music for the entire culturally curious family to enjoy together!
The Creole For Kidz & the History of Zydeco CD from which the live performance was adapted, is narrated by our respected friend, former state Senator and Opelousas mayor, Donald Cravins. The narration tracks offer a rare glimpse into this unique and complex rural culture that has been under represented and misunderstood for years. A champion for his Creole culture and zydeco music, Donald along with his brother Charles, hosts the longest running zydeco radio show on the air in Lafayette, but heard all over the outlying rural Creole communities. They are now joined on air by Dustin Cravins, Don’s son. In partnership with them, Dustin also co-produces their annual Memorial Day Zydeco Extravaganza festival in Opelousas established in 1987.
Creole for Kidz & the History of Zydeco is centered on the history and evolution of this unique American roots music genre. Zydeco is the traditional music of the black and mixed race, French speaking Creoles of south Louisiana. It all started with a conversation Terrance had with his good friend and ethnomusicologist, Taj Mahal, who insisted Terrance tell his important story through song. Simien had long been frustrated by the lack of representation and resources dedicated to the Creole culture. Over the years there was a concerted effort and resourced dedicated by cultural organizations to raise the awareness about the Cajun or Acadian culture, its history, language and traditions, including its music of course. In 1999 Terrance got busy. He hunkered down, did months and months of research and wrote original songs and narration for his recording project. He then developed study guide materials. Simien’s agents at the time were thrilled to be able to offer this program, the only one of its kind to the performing arts presenters they were currently working with. It took them no time to books dozens of performances in the first year the program toured. The 8-page study guide with glossary is a useful tool helps prepare students, parents and educators for the concert performance. It’s available as a PDF file here.
Simien truly embodies “The Spirit of Creole Country” and engages diverse and often not as diverse, student audiences all over the globe. Whether it’s a melting pot of diverse cultures in south Florida or Woltrap Children’s Theater in the Woods in the D.C. area or a more culturally similar community in the US heartland, audiences everywhere have responded enthusiastically to this dynamic program. In fact, Simien’s educational outreach now make up 40% of the group’s performances. In 2012 he and the Zydeco Experience were the first zydeco group to be presented at Berklee College of Music, Boston as part of their American Roots Music and African Studies visiting artists program. It was a great success! If you are a college interested in expanding your students knowledge of American Roots music, call Berklee American Roots Music for their thoughts and input. Don’t take our word for it, but can tell you that the professor whose class Terrance presented to, called the booking agent directly following the lecture and performance to express how amazing and effective the presentation was!
In 2009 Simien got a call from Disney to collaborate on a song with Randy Newman for their Oscar nominated “Princess & the Frog” animated film. This was historical for Disney and for young African American girls who for the first time had an black Disney princess to call their own – created in their image! WOw! Princess Tiana is a strong, ambitious character and woman of color, who worked hard to open a restaurant of her own in New Orleans using the gumbo recipe passed down in her family. This was also a very big deal for Louisiana and New Orleans as this was the first time Disney set their story in a city, educating millions of families about the French Quarter in New Orleans. It focused not only on the traditional love story, but also on the music and culinary traditions including gumbo, jazz, gospel and zydeco. All firsts for Disney! See for yourself and hear the word zydeco actually spoken in the film! “You ready for a little bayou zydeco?“ The images of an accordion, played by Simien, and a frottoir (zydeco rubboard) also being played by Simien are just amazing! Suddenly zydeco became immortalized in a Disney classic film. Simien’s student audiences everywhere sing along with the band when they perform the song from he film that Terrance contribute on, “Gonna Take You There”! In fact since the film debuted we have discovered that for many people this was there very first introduction to zydeco! Wow, right?! We think so too.
Zydeco is infectious and inviting all on its own, but with Simien’s extensive experience as a performer and expert knowledge of his Creole and zydeco history, it makes him a highly respected teaching artist and this makes the music become much more significant. The audience gains an understanding that the genre is critical to the music identity of Louisiana, the American South and our country. It’s one of the reasons the U.S. State Department has presented Simien all over the globe. As one of the most successful touring and recording artists in his genre he takes his work very seriously. He has used his career wisely to influence the next generation of roots music lovers. For Simien it has always been about more than just performing his music. He has always felt a larger responsibility to his Creole culture and to those zydeco artists who came before him.
With a warm smile, open and friendly demeanor, Simien instantly puts his students at ease. He immediately brings them into the moment, involves and engages them with a dynamic and memorable roots music experience. They’re enjoying themselves so much they don’t even realize he is also teaching them about music appreciation and music history, as well as American history, social studies and geography. He also teaches them audience etiquette. The Zydeco Experience band rounds out this high quality performance by giving students a front row seat to a concert of their very own with skilled musicians who have toured the globe! Simien also shares his GRAMMY award with them and talks to them about working hard to attain their goals. Our youth and family weekend matinee performances allow the parents and children to experience this exciting concert together. Seeing is believing in this photo video from Abram Lansing Elementary School in Cohoes, NY where the group performs each year thanks to the principal Mr. Bird, who insists the group visit annually to share the music and culture with his students & faculty. Some have compared this program to “Stealth Education: Entertainment + Engagement = Enjoyable Learning!”
Many of the quotes of support below came from his own state and community. It was very important to Terrance to have the support from those who are the most knowledgeable about Louisiana history since they born here, studied it and lived it!
Simien received early endorsements from the Lafayette Parish School System Superintendent who later funded the presentation directly from their budget. The school board also embraced it and accepted Simien’s donation of CD’s and study guides for all of its 50 school libraries.
Simien, now a two time GRAMMY award winning artist who has toured the world always knew his history and cultural identity. He owns it and takes great pride in his heritage. If we don’t know our own history how can we teach others? Tourism is critical to the cultural economy of Louisiana and our cultural tourists come seeking accurate information about this unique and magical place. Who better to inform them than a well informed and educated population? It’s our own population who our visitors encounter more during their time here than a tourism official or a history professor. Let’s get our head in the game and together we can create and control the message. It’s our message and therefore our responsibility to get it to the people accurately.
Students, Media and Educators Weigh In
“This project addresses a long standing need in Louisiana’s educational system which has regrettably ignored the critically important historical, cultural and linguistic contributions of the state’s large Creole community” –Dr. Carl Brasseaux, Louisiana History ULL, Lafayette, LA
“I’ve been teaching for 19 years, and I have searched high and low for information on Creoles of this region. My Creole students hunger for this information and I have tried in vain to find a substantial enough amount of material to even teach a lesson. I congratulate you on your efforts and want to thank you for helping us to teach our students about their culture.” -Liz Simoneaux Dorsey, Lafayette Middle, Lafayette, LA
“It was like a concert, but for kids!” -Brooke, age 9 student in Florida
“You performed today for Spirit Lake, IA elementary students and you rocked their world! Thanks for bringing great culture to our small town of sameness. We all loved the performance and I had a blast on stage” – Angela, Teacher, Spirit Lake Elementary, IA
“Every school, library, tourist center and museum should have this disc. It simply and effectively tells the unique history of the bayou natives just as important as the Cajuns are in making Louisiana like no other place in the world.” -Herman Fusilier, The Daily Advertiser Lafayette, LA
“THANK YOU so much for working with us on getting Terrance and the band in our community for close to a week. It has been the most heartwarming and empowering experience I have seen in my 9 years at Carnegie Hall. Terrance is the only one who has been able to get the students and teachers so involved in a show that they gave him and encore and the school ALLOWED it! The community is buzzing about the shows…they touched the hearts of over 2400 school children in our county. EVERY middle school student was able to have a zydeco experience. ” -Lynn Creamer, Artistic Director, Carnigie Hall, Lewisburg, WV
“This production was a huge success. The school and the Mayors Office continue to get calls almost daily from parents and teachers in thanks for the presentation they attended. During each performance the connection between Simien, his band and the teacher/student audience was almost palpable. While having the time of their lives, students and teachers were learning new things in an interactive environment while affirming each other’s diversity. It was beautiful to observe such a positive experience!” -Sabrina Beach, Development Director, Epiphany Day School
“Professional in every manner, Terrance and Cynthia worked closely with the Center’s Education Institute beforehand to ensure a high quality performance. Terrance and his band were engaging, witty and exuberant during their audience interactive performance. The students delighted in the experience of catching the Mardi Gras beads Terrance threw during the performance that they proudly carried from the theatre as a memento of this exciting experience. “ -Morenga Hunt, Director, Blumenthal Performing Art Center, Education Institute, Charlotte, NC
“I learned that Zydeco was the music of the Creoles” -Curtis Brooks, age 10 New Iberia, LA
“Terrance Simien is a model of success. He has taken his role very seriously and the materials developed for the students are both professional and informative. We need more programs like this that provide information and instill pride of heritage in the young Creoles of this community.” – Louise Chargois, Instructional Supervisor, Social Studies Lafayette Parish School System.
“The audience response was unlike anything I’ve seen before. You made such a lasting impression on our children and families.” Jill Gillespie, COCA, St. Louis, MO