Swamp blues singer, pianist wins national award

by Walter Pierce

Carol Fran is getting the nation's highest honor in folk and traditional arts.

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - Swamp blues singer and pianist Carol Fran is getting the nation's highest honor in folk and traditional arts.

The National Endowment for the Arts is giving the Lafayette musician a $25,000 National Heritage Fellowship.

Fran has been singing professionally for six decades, since she was 15 years old and left home - and six brothers and sisters - to join the Society Cats led by Louisiana jump blues saxophone player Joe Lutcher.

She was born in 1933, and sings in both English and the French she learned on the bayou from her parents and grandparents.

Swamp blues is a style characterized by slow, laid-back vocals combined with Cajun and Zydeco rhythmic elements.

After marrying sax player Bob Francois in New Orleans, she shortened her married name to "Fran" and sang at Bourbon Street clubs, recording her first hit single, "Emmitt Lee," in 1957 for Excello Records. She recorded extensively during the 1960s.

She married blues guitarist Clarence Hollimon in the early 1980s and moved to Texas. The two toured extensively as the Hollimon Express and released three albums.

They also taught the blues to students as artists-in-residence through Texas Folklife Resources.

After Hollimon died, Fran returned to Louisiana and released a solo album, Fran-tastic, in 2001. She performed in the 2008 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival only seven months after suffering a stroke.

She was nominated for the Blues Music Award female artist of the year in 1993 and 2001 and was named Louisiana's folk artist of the year in 2006 by the Louisiana Governors Arts Awards.