J’ai Fait Mon Idee (I Made-up My Mind)
By William Thibodeaux, History columnist
When the Second World War finally came to a close, the returning veterans of southwest Louisiana wanted to hear the music of their youth. One of the leading bands of that era was Alphée Bergeron and the Original Veteran Playboys. They played traditional Cajun music every night of the week for three years straight. Alphée was a sharecropper by day and accordion player by night. He was from the mysterious community of Pointe Noir, near Church Point in Acadia Parish.
Alphée Bergeron’s son, Shirley Ray, was born in 1933, and when he was thirteen years old, his father bought his first guitar. Shirley was a quick study and soon joined his father’s band while still in school. Shirley was eager to learn and soon began singing in his father’s band. He also learned to play the electric steel guitar—his favorite instrument. At that time, according to Gercie Daigle of Church Point, a native of Pointe Noir and relative of the Bergeron family, the band played dancehalls every night except Monday nights. They played the Rose Garden Club in Nuba, which was located between Opelousas and Washington. They played at the Bon Temps Roulet in Lafayette, the Deuce Club in Lewisburg, the Side Inn and Jake’s Place in Church Point and at Hick’s Wagon Wheel in Plaisance. They also played at the legendary China Ball Club in Bristol and at the Woody Wood Club in Carencro among other dancehalls throughout Acadiana.
In 1952 Shirley Ray married the love of his life, Lee Audrey Thibodeaux, of Lawtell. Her parents had the restaurant at the Green Lantern Club where Lee Audrey helped out on weekends. Shirley’s day job back then was teller at the Progressive National Bank in Church Point. He continued to play music with his father’s band into the 1970s until his father physically couldn’t play music anymore. Alphée Bergeron died in 1980.
Shirley Ray Bergeron became one of the best singer-songwriters of Cajun Music. His voice was clear, distinctive, and very recognizable. He wrote and recorded a number of songs. My personal favorite is: “J’ai Fait Mon Idee,” which is an original written and recorded by Shirley Ray in the late-1950s, and like so many other songs, it tells a story. This song is not only beautiful; it’s a heart wrenching true story.
According to Lee Audrey, Shirley Ray’s wife, sometime in the 1950s, a struggling musician stopped at Shirley Ray’s home to say good-bye. The broken hearted musician told Shirley Ray that he had made up his mind to leave. His wife had abandoned him and their small children. She left them for another man, who didn’t want to have anything to do with someone else’s children. The broken hearted musician tried to make a go of it for a time but unfortunately, it was an insurmountable task. The children were given, the adoption papers were signed, his bag was packed and he was ready to go. The one thing the musician regretted the most, was knowing that his children would never know their father.
Shirley Ray Bergeron died in 1995 at the age of 62. Like so many other Cajun musicians, his music lives on and can be heard any night of the week at various venues throughout Acadiana.