Happy Fats

The music of Happy Fats remains instrumental in both of the preservation and celebration of his native Cajun culture, despite the damage inflicted by a series of race-baiting protest records cut at the peak of the civil rights movement. Born Leroy LeBlanc in Rayne, LA, on January 30, 1915, Fats was a self-taught musician who began his professional career at 17 when he began playing accordion in Cajun hillbilly bands led by Amédé Breaux and Joe Falcon. In 1935, he formed his own group, the Rayne-Bo Ramblers, which regularly headlined the local OST Club. Fats signed to RCA Victor in 1936, and in 1940 scored his first significant hit, "La Veuve de la Coulee," which featured then-unknown fiddler Harry Choates. The Rayne-Bo Ramblers also served as a springboard for Cajun accordion legend Nathan Abshire. Other popular Fats recordings include "Colinda," "La Vieux de Accordion," and "Mon Bon Vieux Mari." Few of his efforts earned national attention, but within south Louisiana he was a superstar, and in the early '50s even hosted a weekday morning radio show on Lafayette station KVOL. In 1966, however, Fats was the subject of national controversy when he signed to producer Jay D. Miller's segregationist Reb Rebel label to record the underground smash "Dear Mr. President," a spoken word condemnation of Lyndon Johnson's civil rights policies that sold over 200,000 copies despite its appalling racism. "We didn't have any problems with that, not at all," Fats maintained in an interview. "There wasn't anything violent about it -- it was just a joke. I had a car of black people run me down on the highway one time coming in Lafayette, and they said, 'Are you the fellow that made " Dear Mr. President"?' I said I was, and they said, 'We'd like to buy some records.' They bought about 15 records. There was a big van full of black people and they loved it . . . Either side at that time, they didn't want integration very much. They wanted to go each their own way." The commercial success of "Dear Mr. President" launched a series of similarly poisonous Fats efforts including "Birthday Thank You (Tommy from Viet Nam)," "A Victim of the Big Mess (Called the Great Society)," "The Story of the Po' Folks and the New Dealers," and "Vote Wallace in '72." After a long battle with diabetes, Fats died on February 23, 1988. ~ Jason Ankeny

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