IRENE’S CAFÉ. Irene’s Café, a restaurant and bar located in Houston’s Sixth Ward, was the first venue where zydeco music was performed publicly. Zydeco, a style of music that blends French melodies with Caribbean-influenced music and the blues, often featuring the accordion, washboard, and guitar, had been popular at house parties of Houston, particularly in a Fifth Ward neighborhood known as Frenchtown. The first performance of the music occurred at Irene’s Café the day before Christmas, 1949. As L. C. Donatto, an accordionist who was accustomed to playing zydeco at house parties, would later recount, he and Willie Green were driving around, drinking, and playing the accordion, when a stranger playing a guitar on a porch stopped them. The men began playing and soon attracted a large audience, including a woman by the name of Irene who invited them to play in her nearby café.
Irene’s Café hosted zydeco one or two nights a week but other nights featured jazz, blues, or solo artists. Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records, recorded some of the earliest zydeco at Irene’s in 1961. The album Zydeco Vol. 1 – The Early Years: 1961-62 includes three songs by Willie Green, who continued playing at the café until his death in the late 1960s. Although Irene’s Café did not last, the success of zydeco gave way to other venues, mainly the Silver Slipper Lounge and the now defunct Continental Zydeco Ballroom, which have helped make zydeco a part of Creole culture in Southeast Texas.
Lawrence Clayton and Joe W. Specht, eds., The Roots of Texas Music (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003). John Minton, “Houston Creoles and Zydeco: The Emergence of an African American Urban Popular Style,” American Music, Volume 14 (Winter 1996). Roger Wood, Texas Zydeco (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006).
Image Use Disclaimer
All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.
For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml
If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Jason Sweeney, "IRENE’S CAFÉ," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xdi01), accessed February 12, 2016. Uploaded on May 28, 2013. Modified on August 25, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Get Texas history everyday,
with day by day
Each day's email tells a little bit more of the story of Texas and links to our collection of more than 27,000 articles