A veteran of the Louisiana journalism scene, Herman Fuselier lives and breathes music, connecting with that local heartbeat wherever he goes.
A lover of music, a long-time freelance music and entertainment writer, Herman Fuselier has done more for the music scene in Louisiana than most achieve in a lifetime. In just 25 years, his influence when it comes to writing about music has proven time and again to be on the pulse of local culture without compromise. Known for his decades of work with New Orleans-based Offbeat Magazine, as well as his contributions to the Daily Advertiser and Times of Acadiana, there’s certainly nothing ordinary about this born-and-bred Opelousan.
The early years
For as long as Fuselier can remember, his life has always been surrounded by music. From his parent’s kitchen radio to their extensive collection of beloved records, this musical expert soon connected with the constant stream of melodies that made up a large portion of his childhood. As Fuselier remembers, “The music was always on in the house, everything from Frank Sinatra to John Delafose and the Eunice Playboys […] I can remember as a child, whenever we would go on vacations, they would always seek out record stores.”
Born in Opelousas, Fuselier graduated from Opelousas Catholic in 1980, before following on to LSU to undertake degrees in Baton Rouge in Journalism. Initially, Fuselier explains, he began his future career as a pre-med major; but realistically medicine wasn’t where his passion lay, leading to worse grades and less interest. To Fuselier, switching to journalism seemed like the obvious choice, and it was clearly the right decision for his future career trajectory.
During his formative years, Fuselier found himself just as influenced by the sports scene surrounding his adopted town, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as he was by his own hometown music scene. As a result, his first foray into journalism was under the banner of a sports writer working at local paper, the Opelousas Daily World, back in the 1980s, before moving on to bigger and better things at larger papers, eventually moving his way up to editor.
Fuselier describes his time as a sports writer fondly, recalling the interest he developed for the subject after following one of his hometown heroes through his long career. Speaking on the subject of sport journalism and his connection with the players, Fuselier said: “One of the hometown heroes, here in Opelousas, was Devery Henderson. I was a sports writer for him in high school, so I got to see him go from high school to LSU to the New Orleans Saints, where he played wide receiver. He had such a great career, he had tremendous speed, and we all knew he would do pretty well, and he did well for himself.”
Despite his love of hometown heroes, and sports as a whole, Fuselier would eventually part ways with sports journalism in favour of broader roles and new horizons. While the popular reporter clearly still holds a passion for reporting and following sports, his past would soon catch up with him, bringing him back to his roots of music, entertainment and local culture.
Returning to music
Following a seven-year stint as sports editor, Fuselier took the decision to bow out of the sporting scene, re-emerging in Lafayette, working as a feature writer for a further seven years. It was after he took a break from reporting to work in radio at KBON that the musically inclined journalist found his true calling. From 2011, Fuselier began his work as a music and entertainment contributor to the Advertiser, connecting to the music and the culture of his past in a new and unexpected way.
While Fuselier had always been appreciative of his musical past, and his Creole ancestry, he’d previously only dabbled in the world of music and entertainment journalism, through the medium of radio or local columns. According to himself, one of the primary reasons he was so keen to write about music was, “To tell the stories and history behind the music, because we have so many musicians here and those stories aren’t always told, about how they got started.”
With that motivation fuelling him, and years of experience writing in high-pressure sporting environments, Fuselier had all the insight he needed to truly do the Louisiana music scene proud. Cajun and Zydeco music were particular areas of interest. Fuselier explains that his love affair with local music began when he returned to Louisiana:
“When I was working as a sportswriter and came back home, to Louisiana, I asked my editor, Harlan Kirgan, about covering the musicians around here. We have so many, but you [never] really heard anything about their lives until they died or got arrested and it was all over the place. I said that we should not have to wait until they pass away to say how much we love them and miss them.”
This commitment to his local music scene and his gravitation towards entertainment as a whole left Fuselier perfectly placed to work with local groups and the inspirational music scene on a grand scale, leading to his name becoming a household name amongst others in the same field. As Fuselier explains it, “It doesn’t seem like work to me when I’m writing about music.”, describing just how effortless creating these local stories is to him.
For Herman Fuselier, there’s far more to music than simply the words or sounds. It’s all about that connection to the local heartbeat of his hometown, or the strong bond between the cultural and musical identity that runs throughout Creole history. As such, Fuselier places a lot of influence on maintaining the public’s understanding of cultural music; with one example being the difference between Zydeco and Cajun music.
Fuselier explains that he’s not afraid to express an opinion – “When race or racism would come up as an issue, you know, I always made it a point to address that. The difference between Zydeco and Cajun music […] most likely an article that I wrote will pop up, and that was written 10 years ago, 15 years ago.”. For such a vital cultural understanding to be conveyed, there are always going to be disagreement, but Fuselier meets these challenges head-on.
As someone proud to be Creole, Fuselier doesn’t shy away from his cultural roots, or from promoting the history of his family and culture. Thanks, in part, to this long-standing pride and promotion of the music and lifestyle surrounding the Creole people, Fuselier’s role as executive director of St Landry Parish came as little surprise. Incorporating live music, dance halls and endless events into the Parish, Fuselier is working hard to propel his culture into the future, encouraging the next generation to take part in melding the traditional and the modern.
Talking about his new role as a promoter of the Parish, Fuselier explains: “All throughout South Louisiana, you have countless Cajun music jam sessions, but St Landry Parish is the cradle of Zydeco music”. By bringing Zydeco to the forefront, Fuselier can preserve that small part of local culture; allowing the music-lovers of today to enjoy cultural entertainment that goes far beyond the history books.
In sharing his love of music, Herman hosts a weekly radio show – The Zydeco Stomp on KRVS in Lafayette, Louisiana (Saturday from 12 to 3 pm central time). The show is a mix of Zydeco, Blues, Classic R&B and information about the artists and culture. Listen to Herman Fuselier’s Zydeco Stomp by tuning in to 88.7 KRVS in Lafayette or online at http://krvs.org/programs/zydeco-stomp-krvs.
Herman is the author of Ghosts of Good Times: South Louisiana Dance Halls Past and Present, which examines the world of Cajun dance halls, Zydeco clubs, Chitlin’ Circuit R&B nightclubs, Swamp-Pop Honkytonks and other venues that at one time were prevalent throughout the region. Photographs by Philip Gould blend architectural imagery of buildings still standing with historic photographs of the clubs that he took back in their heyday. Herman and other writers provide a rich selection of historical accounts and essays about their personal experiences in the clubs. The book also examines the dancehall scene today and how the venues have changed. The music following remains strong and people still come to dance. The surviving old dance halls and newer venues are still in full swing. Old or new, they are icons, a proud south Louisiana legacy of Good Times.
A veteran journalist, local legend and global expert on Zydeco and Cajun music, Herman Fuselier is anything but just a writer. When it comes to breaking down the barriers between the old and the new, Fuselier is putting the Louisiana music scene on the map.