American Routes Shortcuts: Carol Fran

Nov 24, 2017

Carol Fran
Credit Michael G. Stewart (NEA)

Carol Fran has had a long career as an entertainer on the nightclub circuit from South to Southwest. She’s worked the joints from Juarez to New Orleans, playing swamp pop and soul, jazz and country, along the way making records for the legendary Excello label.

Carol Fran: I was called the Sarah Vaughan of the Vieux Carré. The older gals didn’t like that, but they couldn’t do nothing about it.

Nick Spitzer: Bourbon Street from the ‘50s, huh? Who was in those clubs when you were there?

CF: Frogman Henry, Papa Celestin, Snookum Russell, Alma Lollipop.

NS: Now let’s dip back a little bit in time, you’re originally not from New Orleans, you’re from Lafayette.

CF: Yes.

NS: What was Lafayette like for you as a kid growing up? Tell a little about the family and mother and father and music.

CF: Well, I came from a very poor family. My mom did several jobs. She started out as the housekeeper, bringing home the 4 o’clock bucket because we were poor and she wouldn’t eat no dinner, she’d bring it home for my brother and I. My dad worked on the railroad, he would leave on Sunday night and he’d come home on Friday.

NS: Taking care of the track.

CF: Yeah.

NS: That’s hard work.

CF: Yeah that’s hard work, that stuff killed him.

NS: When was your sort of step into piano and music?

CF: Well first I tried to play piano because my mama wanted me to play piano. I didn’t want to play what she wanted me to play. She wanted me to be a concert pianist. I don’t want to be no concert pianist! I wanted to play a boogie-woogie, and I couldn’t find it in the piano books. I’m really just an improvist. Anything I can sing I can play it.

NS: Now you also grew up parle frances, huh?

[Speaking in French]

NS: Is there ever any music, any song that you did in French from growing up or that you did later where you’d sing in French?

CF: Well I did a couple things on the Black Top label.

NS: Now I know you spent a lot of time in Lafayette and you traveled up and down the Gulf Coast, but you left New Orleans at one point in all this, and you went to Tijuana.

CF: Oh yeah.

NS: Now what led you to go to Mexico?

CF: Well there was a guy here that was a female impersonator, at a club called the My-O-My.

NS: Oh I’ve heard about it.

CF: Where all the gay kids were. He wanted to be a singer around the corner so he called this guy in Mexico, so the man came over, and sure enough he hired me. Paid me $250 a week. Hey that was a lot of money then.

NS: And you went to Mexico.

CF: Brought rock and roll to Juarez.

NS: Right on the border there.

CF: Right on the border.

NS: Can you tell us a little about Emmitt Lee?

CF: Oh yes! Well actually Emmitt Lee was a real person. He was a salesman from McGregor Men’s Fashion. And he came over to my hometown. He was such a nice person, he was a good dresser. But anyway I met him, and he went away, and he promised to call me. And so four weeks went by, and I didn’t hear from him. I got the blues one day, sat at the piano, and that’s what I came up with.

To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 7 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.