Pipes and charisma

November 10, 2009

As Richard records and Barry photographs, blues and R&B diva Carol Fran entertains her loved ones at her 76th birthday celebration. Becky Owens took this photo at Cruiser’s, a small cinderblock bar on the old Breaux Bridge Highway in Lafayette, Louisiana.

To appreciate what a treasure Carol Fran is, listen to her song Emmett Lee, which she recorded in 1957 for the R&B label Excello. She’s been singing ever since—her swampy voice dazzles in both English and French—reaching her professional apex after she married Clarence Hollimon in 1983 and began performing with accomplished blues guitarist from Houston. Notes the Texas State Historical Association:

Though the two had initially met around 1958 in New Orleans at the famous Dew Drop Inn, it took a chance crossing of paths some twenty-five years later (at a blues jam in a Houston nightclub) to make them a couple. That union, which billed itself professionally as Fran and Hollimon, eventually evolved into what was likely the most widely traveled and recorded husband-and-wife blues duo in Texas history. During that time they not only played marquee concert halls in numerous cities overseas, as well as major festivals nationwide.

Here’s a video of them performing at the Chicago Blues Festival (Fran comes in at 2:55):

Hollimon died in 2000. Fran moved home to Louisiana and has grieved her husband ever since. She has also suffered a stroke and several other medical setbacks. Still, in her Lafayette living room, she serenaded us with soulful, funny, and heartbreaking stories of her life, which we plan to feature in the documentary. And her hip-grinding performance at Cruiser’s demonstrated that she’s still got both the pipes and the charisma.

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