Queen Ida was the first female accordion player to lead a zydeco band. Favoring a 31-button accordion, she is noted for her melodic playing, and for focusing on the treble side of her instrument, which makes her style similar to Mexican playing styles. Though like many other zydeco artists of the '80s, her music was well grounded in Creole traditions, she also integrates Caribbean, Cajun (with the addition of a fiddle to her Bon Temps Zydeco Band), blues, and other genres. She came to music rather late in life.
Born Ida Lewis to a musically talented family in Lake Charles, LA, she learned to play accordion from her mother after she spent a few years learning the piano. Her family moved to Beaumont, TX, when she was ten, and eight years later moved to San Francisco. Her first language is French, and wherever they went, they took their Creole culture and music with them. But while music was important to Lewis, during her young adult years she married (becoming Ida Guillory) and raised a family, only rarely performing for social occasions. She briefly attended nursing school but left during her first pregnancy. When her children were all school-aged, she became a part-time bus driver. As they grew, Queen Ida's friends began more strongly encouraging her to perform publicly.
In the early '70s, she began performing with Barbary Coast Band and with the Playboys. She was in demand, not only because of her talent, but also because female accordion players were a rarity. She got her stage name in 1975 during a Mardis Gras celebration in the Bay Area. There she was formally crowned "Queen of the Zydeco Accordion and Queen of Zydeco Music." The following year she and her band played at the Monterey Jazz and Blues Festival. She also signed to GNP/Crescendo Records, a Los Angeles-based jazz label.
Despite her popularity, Queen Ida never felt music was stable enough to support her children and so continued bus driving until her youngest daughter went to school. After that, Ida began touring more frequently. In 1978, John Ullman became her agent. He helped make her internationally known. In 1979 she was nominated for a Bay Area Music Award. Though Taj Mahal won it, he arranged a two-week European tour for her. She continued recording and touring through the '80s. Because she feels she and the band sound best live, most of her albums are recorded while she tours.
In 1988, Queen Ida toured Japan, becoming the first zydeco artist to do so. She toured Africa the following year for the State Department and in 1990 went to Australia and New Zealand. Queen Ida has appeared in one feature film, Rumblefish, and a documentary about Louisiana music, J'ai Ete au Bal. She has also performed on television shows ranging from Austin City Limits to Saturday Night Live. For many, Queen Ida is not only an excellent musician, she is also a fine example of how a determined middle-aged woman can still find success in a youth-obsessed culture. ~ Sandra Brennan