October 2022 marks Louisiana’s eighth annual Folklife Month, a celebration of the state’s living traditions and the individuals who sustain them. Selected by local folklorists and other culture workers, six tradition bearers will be honored during events throughout the month. The recipients share a record of continuing and exceptional accomplishment in perpetuating the state’s traditional cultures.
Folklife Month showcases diverse persons and groups from across the state, and often from overlooked cultural communities. The month-long program also increases appreciation for the vital role folklorists play in sustaining Louisiana’s folkways.
Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser emphasized the importance of the initiative saying, “Folklife Month is a time for us to celebrate our traditions and honor our culture. Each of our traditions trace back to our ancestors, and without that, we would not have the identity we have today.”
The following tradition bearers are the 2022 Folklife Month honorees:
- Mary Alice Vanderwaters, Singer/Songwriter; Rapides Parish
- Chef Andrew Miller, Banana Foster Bread Pudding; New Orleans
- Alton Armstrong, Mardi Gras Costumes; Lafayette
- Lonnie “Butch” Cooksey, Jr., Musician/Producer/Promoter; Independence
- Nelson Harris, Drumming; Houma
- Rhonda Remedies Gauthier, Mestiza foodways, gardening, sewing, healing, and midwifery; Natchitoches
A project of the Louisiana Folklife Commission in collaboration with the Louisiana Folklore Society and numerous community partners, Louisiana Folklife Month is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. For more information, visit LouisianaFolklife.org.
Folklife Month Events honoring Tradition Bearers
Honoring Rhonda Remedies Gauthier – Mestiza Foodways, Gardening, Sewing, Healing, and Midwifery (Natchitoches)
Saturday, October 8, 2022
Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum
800 Front Street
Dr. Shane Rasmussen, Director of the Louisiana Folklife Center and Professor of English, Northwestern State University
An Adeasonos and member of the Choctaw-Apache Tribe of Ebarb, Louisiana, and president of Ho Minti Society, Inc., Rhonda Gauthier grew up outside of Zwolle. As a young girl she began learning traditional arts from the women in her immediate and extended family, including crochet, embroidery, hand sewing, quilting, cooking, baking, and animal tending. Her grandmother taught her midwifery, the use of natural herbs to treat common ailments, and herb gardening. After earning a BA in anthropology and history from Northwestern State University, she pursued a successful career in historical interpretation and cultural preservation at various sites across northwestern Louisiana. After her retirement, she has continued to volunteer. In 2005, she produced the film Maize to Masa, which documents the Choctaw-Apache process of nixtamalization, a traditional maize preparation process in which dried kernels are cooked and steeped in an alkaline solution, usually water and food-grade lime, to make hominy. The Choctaw-Apache community still uses this process to make tamale dough.
Honoring Alton Armstrong – Mardi Gras Costumes (Lafayette)
Saturday, October 15, 2022
11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Festivals Acadiens et Créoles, Atelier Stage
500 Girard Park Drive
John Sharp, Assistant Director for Research at Center for Louisiana Studies, Univ. of Louisiana-Lafayette
Herman Fuselier, Executive Director, St Landry Parish Tourist Commission
Alton “Lil’ Tiger” Armstrong, originally from the McComb-Veazey neighborhood in Lafayette, has been participating in the Creole Mardi Gras box hat and screen mask tradition since 1969. Lafayette’s oldest Creole Mardi Gras masking and performance tradition features vibrantly colored costumes, usually with a painted wire mask and square mortarboard-style hat made of cardboard, featuring strands of crepe paper streamers as part of the decoration. These incredible costumes often feature shiny satin fabric, colorful feathers, intricate beadwork or embroidery, and noise-making elements such as bells or clappers. Each costume takes hundreds of hours, as well as hundreds of dollars, to complete and is typically only worn for one year before being retired or repurposed for a new costume. Armstrong is one of the few remaining participants in this tradition, which he is attempting to pass along to new generations, including his grandsons. “I’d love to see twenty guys in a group, parading the neighborhood like they used to, all in box hats and screen masks,” Armstrong says.
Honoring Lonnie “Butch” Cooksey, Jr. – Musician, Producer, Promoter (Independence)
Sunday, October 16, 2022
Faith Apostolic Church
26660 James Capel Road N
Jim Hogg, CEO, Jim Hogg Group, LLC
From the age of eight, Lonnie “Butch” Cooksey Jr. played guitar in his family gospel and bluegrass band, The Cooksey Family. His mother’s vocation as a Pentecostal preacher opened doors for them to sing in churches and travel for many years. Even though Cooksey has played and recorded with many artists, like Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, and Mac Wiseman, he chose to remain with his family band instead of joining a traveling band. Throughout his 63-year career, he has become both an inspiration and a sustaining resource to young people learning this traditional musical form and the instruments it uses: banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and dobro. Cooksey, in addition to winning many awards for upright bass performance, is also a successful sound technician, supporting performances at bluegrass festivals, churches, and other venues in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and surrounding areas.
Honoring Mary Alice Vanderwaters – Singer/Songwriter (Rapides Parish)
Wednesday, October 19, 2022
Troubadours Songwriter Night
Fighting Hand Brewing Company
1600 Military Hwy.
Dr. Tommy Ike Hailey, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology, Northwestern State University
Mary Alice Vanderwaters is a singer and songwriter born and raised in Pineville, Louisiana. At age 7, she begged her brother Max to let her play his guitar; he didn’t take her seriously until she made her own guitar out of a piece of board and some rubber bands. Upon seeing the makeshift guitar, he recognized her determination and taught her to play a song. Years later, Mary Alice wrote the song “Board and the Rubberband Song” as a tribute to Max. Mary Alice joined her first bluegrass band as a teenager and began writing songs after becoming a fan of Dolly Parton and learning to play her songs. She continues to hone her songwriting as a long-time member of the Nashville Songwriting Association and performs today at songwriting rounds, churches, and festivals.
Honoring Nelson Harris – Drumming (Houma)
Sunday, October 23, 2022
Rougarou Festival Main Stage
132 Library Drive
Jonathan Foret, South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center
When he was in his twenties, Nelson Harris came across Melvin Williams drumming in a park, who invited Harris to try his hand at drumming on congas. From that point on, Williams became his teacher. Since then, Harris has become well known in Terrebonne Parish for playing bongo and conga drums in both traditional and African styles. He recalls playing on cowhide heads before synthetic heads were readily available. Because of the force needed to play on cowhide, his hands would often crack and bleed after a session of playing. When asked how drumming makes him feel, Harris said, “When I’m playing drums, I can actually hear it coming off the walls. I can hear it coming off the floors. I can hear the ringing in it. I can play so many different ways, that a lot of times, I try to capture that in one sound, and it’ll lose me, so I chase it.” Now 72, Harris has turned his passion for drumming into a way to give back to his community, volunteering to play at charitable events and spending many hours sharing his love of music through educational workshops for children.
Honoring Chef Andres Miller – Bananas Foster Bread Pudding (New Orleans)
Wednesday, October 26, 2022
Dillard University – Georges Auditorium
2601 Gentilly Blvd.
New Orleans, LA
Mona Lisa Saloy, Conrad Hilton Endowed Chair, Professor of English, Dillard University, Poet Laureate
Born in New Orleans and raised in “The Cutoff ” section of Algiers, Andrew “Chef Drew” Miller learned how to create food with lots of love from the best chef he knew: his late mother, Eleanor B. Miller. Acting on his passion for cooking, Chef Drew studied the art of cuisine at Sclafani’s Cooking School and soon began working in the field, holding positions as an offshore chef preparing meals for offshore crew members and on-site staff and a sous-chef for the Hilton Garden Inn hotel. In 2000, Chef Drew started Miller Thyme Catering. When he wanted to add something sweet to the menu, he thought of bread pudding. After experimenting with the recipe and adding his own flair, Bananas Foster Bread Pudding was born. It quickly became a signature menu item and one of his most sought-after dishes; Louisiana Poet Laureate Mona Lisa Saloy was so impressed with it (and its effect on diners) that she honored Miller and his dish with a poem.
For pictures and expanded biographies of each tradition bearer, please visit the Folklife Month webpage.