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Ida Guillory

"Queen Ida" Guillory and her Bon Temps Zydeco Band have toured nationally and internationally. Guillory has also published a popular cookbook, "Cookin' with Queen Ida."

Ida Guillory

Courtesy of The California Digital Library.

A black and white reproduction of a photograph of Queen Ida.

African American accordionist Ida Guillory, better known as “Queen Ida,” is believed to be the first women to lead a zydeco band. Though Guillory spend much of her adult life in California, she was born in Louisiana and grew up speaking French. As a teenager, Ida learned to play the diatonic or button accordion, despite her parents’ belief that the instrument was best suited to boys. After raising a family, Ida began playing zydeco with her brother’s band and quickly became popular with Louisiana transplants living on the West Coast. As her popularity has grown, she has played around the world and won a Grammy award for best ethnic or traditional folk recording in 1982. An avid cook, she has also published a cookbook featuring Creole cuisine.

Ida Lewis was born January 15, 1929, in Lake Charles. She was one of seven children born to Paul Ben Lewis, a Creole rice farmer, and Elvina Broussard Lewis. Her family moved to Beaumont, Texas, when Ida was ten. As a child, Ida helped cook for thirty to forty field hands and later drove a tractor during planting season. She grew up hearing French lullabies as well as zydeco, the vigorous blues-inflected music played at weekend fais dos dos (dance parties). When she was eighteen, her family moved to San Francisco, along with many other Louisiana emigrants, to pursue work in the shipyards.

After marrying Raymond Guillory, she raised three children and drove a school bus for a living. As the children grew, she pulled out her accordion and began to sit in with her brother’s band. Combining auditory and gustatory arts, Guillory would also cook big pots of gumbo for the band’s club dates. In 1975, she was chosen as queen of the Mardi Gras at a church celebration, and a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle dubbed her “Queen Ida.” Assuming leadership of the band soon after, she was booked at the San Francisco Blues Festival and the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Guillory’s touring and recording career subsequently took off, and in 1982 her On Tour album won a Grammy. Queen Ida and her Bon Temps Zydeco Band have toured nationally and internationally, in addition to appearing on programs such as A Prairie Home Companion and Austin City Limits. She also has published a popular cookbook, Cookin’ with Queen Ida. There have been several kings of zydeco over the years, but there has been only one Queen Ida.