Norby Chabert

State Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma

Me-oh, my-oh Louisiana won’t have an official state song from the bye-oh.

Terrebonne Parish Republican Sen. Norby Chabert told The Advocate that he won’t be pursuing his bill to include Hank Williams’ iconic “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” as one of the state songs.

Time is getting short in the 2019 session, little has been passed so far, and with a little less than a month to go lawmakers shouldn’t be wasting time running down such trails, Chabert said shortly after giving up on another pet project: changing the election code to allow for referendums voters could use to get various issues on the ballot. The session must end by 6 p.m. June 6.

Referendums might allow voters to weigh in on issues passionately embraced but fervently opposed. He thought allowing citizens to vote directly on some issues would help legislators find consensus.

But, like his idea for an additional official song, Senate Bill 123 attracted fierce criticism in state where fistfights have broken out over the right way to boil crawfish.

“You have serious religious and cultural divides which makes Louisiana difficult to govern,” Chabert said.

Unlike other Southern states, which have a mostly homogeneous population, Louisiana has been home to different peoples with different languages almost from the moment Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville sailed up the Mississippi River more than 300 years ago.

For instance, Chabert said, “I’m a bayou Acadian, Cajun, and that’s different from prairie Cajun. There are cultural differences. We speak a different version of French.”

Unlike the prairie Acadians, whose ancestors were thrown out of Canada by the British, the ancestry of bayou Cajuns includes some Acadia exiles but have a lot more original French and Spanish colonists.

The same friction, if not worse, came up in his Senate Bill 192, which has been sitting on the Senate’s calendar since April 17 and now won’t get a vote.

Chabert was hoping to add “Jambalaya,” which is a litany of South Louisiana cultural references, as an official state anthem along with “Give Me Louisiana” and “You Are My Sunshine.”

Hank Williams, who is from Alabama, released “Jambalaya” in 1952 and it was the best-selling record for 14 weeks. The song has been translated and sung in French, Mandarin, Estonian and a half dozen other languages.

When SB192 cleared committee, Chabert became the target of a lot abuse for even suggesting that “You Are My Sunshine” doesn’t fulfill all needs of all people from the state of Louisiana.

Include “Jambalaya” in the pantheon of official state songs?

“Them’s fightin’ words,” former state official come talk radio host Jim Brown, who studied at Cambridge University in England, wrote in his April 25 blog.

“Sunshine” was sung in 1940 by country music singer Jimmie Davis, who is from Jackson Parish, and has been performed by dozens of artists since. Davis was governor from 1944 to 1948 and then again from 1960 to 1964. “Sunshine” was made the state’s second official song in 1977.

Though the song is known world round, the “Sunshine” lyrics, at least the version most people sing, don’t allude to Louisiana at all.

The state’s first official song, “Give Me Louisiana,” is nothing but mentions about the state’s history and culture including waxing lyrically about “of old plantation days, makes good old Louisiana, the sweetest of all states.” The song became the official anthem in 1970.

One problem is that the state has such a rich musical culture, Chabert said, where quintessential Louisiana music really depends on what part of the state you’re talking about.

Wikipedia has 73 pages listing “the most famous” musicians from Louisiana – all of whom have fierce defenders.

Some of the senators from the southwestern part of the state pressed Chabert that instead of "Jambalaya" he should go with “Jolie Blon,” the traditional waltz heard at nearly every festival and not coincidentally at McNeese State University football games where it’s the school song. “As a good Nicholls man, I couldn’t agree to that,” Chabert said, referring to Nicholls State University in Thibodaux.

Actually, Chabert is a fan of Vermilion Parish singer DL Menard, whose most famous song, “La Porte En Arrière,” is probably as well known as “Jolie Blon.” In English, the “Back Door” was influenced by Menard’s friend Hank Williams. Dozens of song writers worldwide say the song has influenced their work. “La Porte En Arrière” was released in July 1962 and has since been named one of the greatest songs ever by Rolling Stone magazine.


Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.