Zachary Richard is first and foremost a musician, but he uses his music and writing to help in the preservation of the French language and culture in North America.
The Lafayette native will be presented in a concert, “Zachary Richard — An Acadian Homecoming,” Wednesday, April 10, in Lake Charles. It will be the final concert of the 13th season of the Louisiana Crossroads Series, sponsored by the city of Lake Charles.
The concert will be broadcast live on public radio KRVS, FM 88.7, and worldwide through krvs.org.
Richard grew up in Scott speaking French, but he developed much of his career in French-speaking Canada, beginning with rock music inspired by the likes of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and others.
“By a series of happy coincidences my music has been influenced by the French language,” he said in a telephone interview last week.
He performed several times in Lake Charles in the 1980s and mid-90s, he said. He was featured in a McNeese Banners Series/Louisiana Crossroads program in 2010.
In recent years, his work has been mostly in Canada and touring Europe, but he returns home to Southwest Louisiana primarily to promote his new album, “Le Fou.”
“The title means ‘the crazy,’ but it is also a nickname for the northern gannet, a seabird that splits its time between Québec and Louisiana, just like me,” he said. The first bird to be cleaned of crude oil leaked in the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe was a northern gannet, “enough to make you crazy,” he said.
His first exposure to music was in church, he said.
“I learned music, and I learned to appreciate music in the bishop’s boys’ choir in Lafayette,” he said. He wrote songs while a student at Tulane University, where he graduated summa cum laude in 1970. He continued the work in New York after college. In his early days, he went door to door asking questions about the history of Cajun and zydeco music.
One old-timer “told me to play for the head to make the audience think, to the heart to make them feel and to the feet to make them dance,” he said. With that in mind, he urged visitors at the Lake Charles concert to wear comfortable shoes, because “we’ll make you want to dance.”
“I have always tried to make my music spiritual, and it has been a source of solace when I’m down.”
One of those “down” times came in 2010, when Richard suffered a stroke. He wasn’t long in recovery, however.
“I’m walking, talking and crawling on my belly like a reptile,” he joked. “I was lucky to have good friends around me to keep me going.”
Through Friday, Richard is making available for free download an unreleased single, “Bonsoir, Bonsoir,” from the “Le Fou” sessions. The link is www.zacharyrichard.com. The English translation of the lyrics is found on the website.
“The song was inspired by the disruption of a family caused by the persecution country folk suffered in the wave of vigilantism that swept the country in the mid-19th century,” he said. The same theme was portrayed in the film “Belizaire the Cajun” in 1986.
In addition to his songwriting and performing, Richard has authored three collections of French poetry, four illustrated books of fables and “Histoire des Acadiennes et des Acadiens de la Louisiane,” a book with color photographs intended for French immersion students.
“I have also written poetry in English, but none of it has been published,” he said.