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Zachary Richard Biography

Zachary Richard was born in Southwest Louisiana’s Cajun country in 1950. A full-blooded Cajun himself, Zachary’s ancestors migrated to Louisiana upon being forcibly exiled by the British from their homes in Acadia (now Nova Scotia) during the “Grande Derangement” of the mid-1700’s. From the word “Acadien” evolved the now familiar “Cadien,” or “Cajun.” The Cajuns are now an integral part of Louisiana culture, but their acceptance into that milieu was a long, painful process, in which they were denied their identity as French speaking citizens; so much so, that in the middle of the Twentieth Century, the US Government actually forbade the use of the language entirely.

At the age of eight, Zachary began taking piano lessons, but he credits his singing in the Bishop’s Boys Choir with a great deal of his early musical education. With choir practice every day and singing in church on Sundays, as well as at additional functions, he gained a rich musical experience at an early age. Zachary continued this musical routine until his discovery of Rock and Roll. He still remembers his first three albums as being the Rolling Stones' Out of Their Heads, the Byrds’ Turn Turn Turn, and Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel, and feels their influence has stayed with him to this day. Other early influences were Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, James Cotton, and Howling Wolf as well as Clifton Chenier, and later, Professor Longhair. When asked what style of music is his favorite, he sites 50’s Chicago blues as the most exciting, but he feels Bob Dylan and Neil Young had the greatest influence on his songwriting. At about 13 he decided he “wanted to get a guitar and be Mick Jagger,” he recalled in a recent interview, “So I stopped singing for God, and started playing the ‘Devil's music!’”

His teenage bands included his cousin and boyhood friend, Michael Doucet, who continued to play with him into the 1970s. Their collaboration as the Bayou Drifter Band produced Le Bayou des Mystères in 1976 and Mardi Gras in 1977, both on the Arzed label (Zach’s initials backwards).

Zachary enrolled at Tulane University, where he was a gifted student, graduating summa cum laude in history in 1971; but his heart belonged to music. “I was brought up in a typical middle-class family, expecting to be a lawyer or a doctor; so I figured a lawyer was good, because you didn't have to wash your hands as often,” Zachary has remarked of his college days. “A musician, in terms of the Cajun culture, was associated with debauchery. Musicians stay out late, they drink, and they don't make that much money. So when I went to college it was pre-law, or whatever that meant: but then I smoked a big joint, and it was over [laughs] ... it's like, I don't want to do this. You know, I can't do this!”

Zachary moved on to New York City after college, recording an album master for Elektra Records. His timing was less than fortunate however, as his master tapes languished while Warner Brothers, Elektra and Asylum Records merged. In the re-organization, his project was dropped, but happily, this album has since been released by Rhino Records as High Time: The Elektra Recordings.

In 1976 Zachary moved to Montreal, where his musical career blossomed. There he recorded seven albums in French which met with tremendous critical acclaim and commercial success, including 2 gold albums. In 1981, he returned to Louisana, where he began recording songs written in English. Following two albums for Rounder Records, Mardi Gras Mambo and Zack's Bon Ton, Zachary signed with A&M, and recorded Women in the Room, and Snake Bite Love back to back. With these releases came an international following, with Zachary touring extensively. In 1995, he returned to French language recording, while continuing to write in English as well.

In 1980, Zachary was honored with Le Prix de la Jeune Chanson Française given by the French Minister of Culture for his contributions to the arts and French culture. In 1996, he was further decorated as Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres de la République Française, and in March 1998, he was awarded l'Ordre de la Francophonie by the Government of Québec. His first French language album in 14 years, Cap Enragé, was certified platinum and received a Felix (French Canadian Grammy) in December 1997, and in 1998 he received another Felix as well as the Prix Champlain (awarded for French North American literature) for Faire Récolte, his second book of poetry.

His work in film has been diverse, including narration of the documentary Bayou of the Lost, The Legacy of Labranche in 1996, production and narration of his own Against the Tide, a one hour television documentary detailing the history of the Cajun people, and performance as a Czechoslovakian composer in the Claude Fournier production of Juliette Pomerleau, a mini-series for Canadian and French TV. He also collaborated with The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana on the production of The Legacy of Labranche, a television documentary examining the history and present state of the Labranche Wetlands. He has most recently been at work on a documentary about migratory birds.

Zachary is committed to defense of the environment and animals, through his efforts to restore Canada’s Petit Codiac River, as well as Louisiana wetlands, and his support of such organizations as Peta, Greenpeace and Farm Sanctuary. He also works to preserve his Cadien culture. He is a founding member of Action Cadienne, a volunteer organization dedicated to the promotion of the Cadien language and culture.

Zachary Richard

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