Despite a tragically short career, during which he recorded less than three dozen tunes, Iry LeJeune (born: Ira LeJeune) was one of the most influential accordion players and songwriters in the history of Cajun music. His short list of compositions, including "The Love Bridge Waltz," "The Waltz Of The Mulberry Limb" and "The Church Point Breakdown," have been covered by such Cajun performers as the California Cajun Orchestra, Geno Delafose, The Magnolia Sisters, Steve Riley, Jo-el Sonnier and his son, Eddie LeJeune.
Born and raised on a small farm near Church Point, LA, LeJeune suffered from extremely poor eyesight and wore heavy, coke bottle-like, glasses throughout his life. Unable to work on the farm, he had little direction until an uncle, Angelos LeJeune, taught him to play the accordion. Music was in his blood. His father, Guston, was an amateur fiddler and his brother, Theobert, played accordion. LeJeune took to the squeezebox quickly and was soon hitch-hiking to town, with his fiddle in a flour sack, to play for tips in local beer halls. In a late-50s interview, Angelos LeJeune remembered, "As a young boy of fifteen, (Iry) would come to my house almost every day to practice on my accordion." LeJeune's first accordion of his own was a gift from another uncle, Stephen LeJeune.
Although LeJeune recorded in Houston, in the mid-1940s, the record label lacked sufficient funds to adequately distribute the recording and it quickly went out of print. Frustrated by the experience, LeJeune returned home.
LeJeune didn't remain idle for long. Soon after hearing that Eddie Schuller, a deejay on Lake Charles radio station, KPLC, featured local musicians during a fifteen minute segment of his show, LeJeune made his radio debut. Although the appearance was a hit with the listening audience, the station manager had little fondness for Cajun music and banned LeJeune from an encore appearance. Schuller, however, was excited by LeJeune's playing and signed him to record for his independant record label, Goldband, using the KPLC studios late at night. LeJeune went on to record twenty-six tunes for the label over the next seven years.
Word about LeJeune's heavily-syncopated playing spread quickly. In addition to performing at dances with fiddler J.B. Fuselier, he sat in often with Alphee Bergeron And The Veteran Playboys at the Dixie Club in Eunice.
LeJeune's career and life came to a tragic ending on the night of October 8, 1954. Returning home from a dance, the car in which he was riding got a flat tire. While a band member prepared to change it, LeJeune stood by the side of the road. Within minutes, an intoxicated driver came speeding down the road and ran into LeJeune and two band members. LeJeune's body was thrown more than one hundred feet off the road into a swamp. He died instantly.
Nearly five decaces since his death, LeJeune's legacy has continued to influence Cajun musicians including his son, Eddie. ~ Craig Harris