During his years at Grinnell, Ron Stanford ’71 was one of the students in charge of booking concerts for the College. He helped bring Jackson Browne, Steve Miller, John Prine, Bill Monroe, and other marquee name acts to campus.
But it was another band that ended up being the most influential to Stanford and his wife, Fay Hazelcorn Stanford ’72. The Balfa Brothers, a Cajun family that hailed from Basile, Louisiana, told Stanford that if he ever wanted to visit, he was welcome in Basile.
After graduation, the Stanfords received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant; for the next two years, they documented music and culture in and around Basile, taking hundreds of black-and-white photos. The couple also produced a Cajun and zydeco album, J’étais au Bal (I Went to the Dance), complete with a 30-page liner notes booklet. The groundbreaking recording showcased Black and white musicians together at a time when races in southwest Louisiana rarely mixed.
In 2016, Ron rediscovered a huge box of photos from the Basile days. He assembled a batch for an art exhibit in Philadelphia and then compiled 100 of the best shots for a book titled Big French Dance: Cajun & Zydeco Music, 1972–74.
“Before people were aware of how distinct Cajun culture was, they were just living their lives,” Fay says. “Music was part of their lives, family gatherings, and festivals, and they let us go along with it.”