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Frank de Caro

A well-loved folklorist will be remembered for kindness, humor, and scholarship 

Frank de Caro

Photo by Nick Spitzer

Frank de Caro in Baton Rouge, 1981.

This year’s Lifetime Contributions to the Humanities award is bittersweet, as our honoree is recently deceased folklorist Frank de Caro. De Caro, a nationally renowned folklorist who was particularly active in Louisiana, died this spring of COVID-19. The first chairman and a past president of the Louisiana Folklore Society, de Caro was a lifelong scholar of folklore; his final book, Downtown Mardi Gras: New Carnival Practices in Post-Katrina New Orleanswritten with Leslie A. Wade and Robin Roberts, was released by University Press of Mississippi shortly after his death. 

Born in New York, de Caro earned a BA from St. Francis College and an MA from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. After teaching in India on a Fulbright scholarship, de Caro attended Indiana University’s doctoral program in folklore, where he met fellow student Rosan Jordan. The two married, completed their doctorates, and began work at LSU in 1970, kicking off their long involvement in Louisiana folklore. Among de Caro’s many publications was the 1998 Louisiana Sojourns: Travelers’ Tales and Literary Journeys, published by LSU Press. This collection of travel writing about Louisiana, co-edited with Jordan, was honored as the LEH Book of the Year in 1999. 

De Caro’s expansive résumé and list of publications reflect an impressive career devoted to the exploration and celebration of human culture, but to understand the full impact of his life, one must hear from his friends. Folklorist and poet Barry Ancelet, describing a photo he took of de Caro falling down among revelers at Tee Mamou Mardi Gras, said, “It captures a side of Frank that one could overlook if one was considering his elegant scholarship and demeanor. He had a playful side that could be downright quirky, and he also didnmind finding himself on his butt for the sake of tradition.”  

Marcia Gaudet, another friend and folklorist colleague, expanded on his talent for friendship, describing a man who made connections easily and maintained them for years, embracing relationships with fellow folklorists across the country and around the world. Though a transplant, de Caro became an ambassador for New Orleans and Mardi Gras, often welcoming guests into his home during the Carnival season to share the city’s celebrations with curious travelers.  

De Caro leaves a lasting and joyful legacy in the Louisiana folklore community he nurtured over the course of his long career. In the words of his colleague Gary Alan Fine of Northwestern University, “Ithere are parades in heaven, Frank will recount them and will inspire them.