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Sweet Cecilia: a unique family phenomenon of the Louisiana music scene

Sweet Cecilia
Hunter Romero
Laural Huval (left), Maegan Berard, and Callie Guidry of Sweet Cecilia.

The three band members, originally from Cecilia, are proud of their heritage and their hometown.

Lire en français sur Le Louisianais

For the members of Sweet Cecilia, a band made up of Laura Huval, Maegan Berard, and Callie Guidry, being a musician is much more than a vocation or a means of sharing their talents. As their band’s name suggests, they are proud to hail from Cecilia, a small village wedged between the oaks of Bayou Teche and the levees of the Atchafalaya Basin. Their passion for Cecilia has turned them into a local sensation, with loyal support from their neighbors and beyond.

It’s hard for them to say when they made the choice to play music. The band is comprised of two sisters and a cousin who all come from a musical family. Laura and Maegan’s father, Al “Pyook” Berard achieved national recognition for his compositions incorporating guitar or fiddle into Cajun music, before his sudden death in 2014. Today, the main street in Cecilia bears his name.

“We’re very passionate about our culture and we want to continue that legacy of sharing it with the world,” Laura explained.

This tradition has propelled Sweet Cecilia to the forefront since it was founded in 2012. In Cecilia, a historically Creole-speaking village, music is a work of the community, for the community. It’s much more than a personal taste: music brings people together, it’s an engine of social life, and above all a collective work. “Without the support of our community, our mommas and our babysitters, we would never have been able to make it,” added Laura.

Sweet Cecilia at a Festival
David Simpson
Sweet Cecilia at Festival International de Louisiane in 2023.

Drawing inspiration from the region’s rich culture, Sweet Cecilia’s style reflects a diverse musical past and present. In 2020, the three artists released an album paying tribute to the late Berard, full of covers of his songs in French and Louisiana Creole. Their covers of rock songs in French (“Le Temps de la Saison”) are favorites, but it’s surely “Red Bird Flies”, a mourning song written in a very personal way, that is their best-known.

“It’s just an extraordinary musical family. I got to know the full effect of that very strong family bond that runs through the Cecilia area,” said Sam Broussard, an accomplished Cajun musician and frequent collaborator.

Another thing that sets Sweet Cecilia apart from the rest is their desire to train a new generation of Cajun musicians, starting with Chynna Huval and Lexi Guidry, the two children of Sweet Cécilia members, who are among the youngest to play Cajun music and have already made a name for themselves locally.

Now, Chynna sings with established musicians in the genre, such as Broussard, and according to him, the collaboration has been a success. Far from being a barrier, the almost 50-year age difference between Chynna and Sam works to their advantage. Broussard sees her as a musical complement, and Chynna can learn to play and pass on the local tradition. Thanks to her French immersion upbringing, she sings in both French and English.

Recently, a family member even made his debut at age 8 at Café Sydnie Mae. This café, housed in the former Café des Amis building in Breaux Bridge, has become a community center of sorts thanks to its performances of zydeco, Cajun music, and other genres. Sweet Cecilia has a performance here every Valentine’s Day, and according to owner David Puckett, the community response is always warm. “A big part of our business is first-timers and we attract new business from all around the world, we’re blessed by that. As soon as we mention that Sweet Cecilia’s playing at Cafe Sydnie Mae, it’s a treat for the local communities to hear them in that setting.”

And they continue to find new ways to bring their music to their audience. With the success of the commemorative album and the help of the local performing arts center, they have dedicated the proceeds to a fund for the development of high school musicians in the area, including their hometown parish of St. Martin. Callie is committed to student apprenticeship, offering students the choice of deepening their skills in playing Cajun music among other genres. Laura, meanwhile, has launched a “music ministry” to combine the healing power of music with her Catholic faith.

Callie explained their formula for musical tradition. “All three of my kids play music because they want to, because they saw us playing music, and that’s a perk. I think it’s important for young people to see these young people singing in French. “Hey, this is cool. It’s cool to embrace your culture.”