Lecture/Performance: Dennis Stroughmatt et l'Esprit Creole

The Gentry Lecture Series; Co-sponsors: Department of History, Eighteenth-Century Interdisciplinary Salon, and Performing Arts Department

Speaker:  Dennis Stroughmatt  
Performers: Dennis Stroughmatt (fiddle), Doug Hawf (guitar), Greg Bigler (bass)

Fingers and bow flying, Dennis Stroughmatt takes listeners on a musical odyssey. This is the story of the French Creoles who founded the Illinois-Missouri Country near the Ozark foothills, more than 300 years ago. Their songs, stories, and language remain largely intact and true to the traditions that have been passed down for generations. L'Esprit Creole's music bridges the gap between contemporary Canadian and Louisiana Cajun styles. Originally from southeastern Illinois, Dennis Stroughmatt was taught to play fiddle by Missouri Creole fiddlers Roy Boyer and Charlie Pashia in the tradition of their fathers. He became an adopted son of the French Midwest Creoles who settled near St. Louis, playing at weekly house parties or "bouillons." As a result of physical journeys that also included French studies in Louisiana and Quebec, Dennis finds himself in a unique position as one who can speak knowledgeably and play in a variety of French styles. He has an innate sense of what is needed to get an audience on their feet, and keep a band on its toes. Dennis Stroughmatt et l'Esprit Creole are passionate ambassadors of Creole music and traditions, expanding interest and excitement in a region that has been long ignored by the history books. As they say in the hills, "On est toujours icitte: We are still here!"

Dennis Stroughmatt – lead vocals and fiddle
Dennis Stroughmatt is a rare musician and scholar of several North American Creole traditions, having made the full circle of the North American continent in his passion to follow the migrations of French roots music. As a result of those physical journeys and musical odysseys, Dennis finds himself in a unique position within Creole and Cajun music scene, as one who can speak knowledgeably and play alongside the huge variety of French styles: Cajun, Zydeco, Blues, Swamp Pop.

Though his credentials are unmatched as a scholar and tradition-bearer, Dennis still has the innate “sense” of what is needed to get an audience on their feet, and to keep a band on its toes. Recipient of numerous fellowship grants and awards, Dennis takes his band and the music history to festivals large and small, museums, civic concerts, University stages and master classes, schools, and in smaller ensembles, to libraries, service clubs and more. Some recent credits: Wayne County Historical Society (Wooster OH), Swamp Romp (Kettering), Bastille Days (Milwaukee), Crawfish Fest (St Petersburg, FL), Grey Fox Bluegrass Fest.

Originally from southern Illinois, Dennis grew up in the shadow of the French Creoles of Vincennes, IN and and always wanted to become more informed about this part of American culture. While attending college in Cape Girardeau, MO, Dennis "accidentally" became involved with the French Creole population of Old Mines, MO. He spent about three years attending weekly house parties or "bouillons," learning to speak Creole French with Kent Beaulne, and learning to play the fiddle styles of the Missouri French.

Following the trail of French music and culture, Dennis later moved to Lafayette, LA where he worked and interned at the famous Vermilionville Folklife Village. There, Dennis increased his fluency in French (though more heavily Cajun) thanks to Blanche Quebedeaux and Evelyn Goller, spent countless hours with Cajun and Creole master fiddlers including Faren Serrette, Black Allemand, Canray Fontenot, and Merlin Fontenot, and eventually just became one of the locals.

Dennis finally returned to Illinois to complete a Masters of History at Southern Illinois University, and soon after, he attended the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi, Canada where he was awarded a Certificate in Quebec French Language and Culture in the Fall of 1999. After returning to the United States, he continued to work with his Illinois based band but went back to his roots and started traveling with Louisiana based groups such as Sheryl Cormier and Cajun Sounds, The Acadian Aces, The Bayou Teche Band, and the Creole group The Ardoin Family Band. He still works occasionally with the Morris Ardoin Creole Trio and Dexter Ardoin and the Creole Ramblers.