Cajun musician Harry Choates’ grave will get Texas Historical marker
The Jefferson County Historical Society and the Port Arthur Historical Society plan a June 21 unveiling of a Texas Historical marker in Calvary Cemetery at the grave of “The Godfather of Cajun Music,” singer/songwriter/musician Harry Choates, who during his short 28-year life brought Cajun music to national prominence.
Choates was born in Cow Island, Louisiana, in 1922. In the early 1930s, he moved with his mother to Port Arthur, where he began to develop and shape his gift of music, learning to play the fiddle, accordion, acoustic guitar and steel guitar.
Choates had no formal music education, other than listening to jukebox music in bars as a child. By the age of 12, he was singing and playing for tips in area barbershops
As early as 1940, Choates was performing in local Cajun bands, preferring to use borrowed instruments
Choates enjoyed many styles of music, including Cajun, jazz, blues and country. He is best known for merging traditional Cajun music with western swing.
Choates and his band, The Melody Boys, rewrote a traditional Cajun waltz, “Jolie Blone,” and recorded it as “Jole Blon,” a song that became a regional favorite, received extensive national airplay and today is considered to be a classic hit.
The band recorded dozens of other songs and, because of Choates’ famed high-energy performances, became well-known.
But difficulties in Choates’ personal life often overshadowed his professional career, leading to the eventual disbanding of The Melody Boys. He battled alcoholism and was estranged from his wife, Helen, with whom he had two children.
Choates moved to Austin in the early 1950s, where he was arrested and held after a Jefferson County judge held him in contempt of court in a child support case.
Choates died under uncertain circumstances in the Travis County Jail in 1951, at the age of 28.
Although his life was brief and sometimes tragic, Choates left behind a legacy of talent still celebrated today and influencing generations of musicians.
The public is invited to the historical marker event, which begins with a 10 a.m. program in Kirwin Hall at St. James Catholic Church, 3620 17th St. in Port Arthur.
The unveiling will take place after the program in Calvary Cemetery, at the corner of 25th Street and 9th Avenue.
The marker is sponsored by the Port Arthur Historical Society, Jerry J. Bellot, Jeff Hayes, Tim Knight, Huey P. Meaux and Dr. Sam Monroe.