The music of Jo-El Sonnier is a way of life. Steeped in passion, relentless dedication…he has been the undisputed “King of Cajun” for the past 25 years and occupies a significant place in the rich artistic landscape of this country. His fans are un-deniably dedicated, while the music industry elite – Dylan, Costello and Hank Williams Jr., to name a few, admire his work to no end. He is a “musician’s musician” with a wonderful gift to sing and entertain you in a way often imitated but never duplicated.
Jo-El was born in Rayne, Louisiana to poor, French speaking sharecroppers. He began to play the accordion at three years of age, first as a toy to occupy Jo-El while his parents visited with neighbors. As he grew, so did his love for the instrument and his ability to play it. Singing only in French, his Cajun heritage was very strong and clear. News of this gifted child spread, which led to a radio debut at the age of 6 and his first recording session at the age of 11. As a favorite in local clubs, Sonnier remained a Louisiana sensation during his early life, but decided to try his luck at recording Country music and in 1974 he signed a recording contract with Mercury Records. The success he sought after continued to elude Sonnier and after four years in Nashville,he decided to try his luck in California where he beganperforming solo shows with the help of many notable friends including guitarist Albert Lee and the Band’s Garth Hudson.. By the middle 80’s, Jo-El had a Grammy nominated recording to his credit with Cajun Life. The recognition achieved with the success of Cajun Life provided the freedom to fuse Sonnier’s deep Cajun roots with country, rock, and other pop influences.
1987 brought about a new recording deal with RCA records and the result was Come On Joe. Containing several Top 10 hits including “Tear-Stained Letter” and “No More One More Time”. In 1988, Jo-EL was named by the“Performance Magazine”, “New Country Touring Artist of the Year.” Later Jo-EL was nominated by the Academy of Country Music For the “New Male Vocalist of the Year Award”.His new album ”Come On Joe”was the only Nashville album chosen by People magazine as one of the ten best albums of 1989. He also wonCashbox magazine’s New Male Vocalist award. With radio success under his belt, Jo-EL began to stretch out by becoming a sought after session player in Nashville.
The sounds of his accordion can be heard on the albums of such great legends as Hank Williams Jr.,Johnny Cash, Alan Jackson, Robert Cray, , Neil Diamond, Mark Knopfler, Elvis Costello,Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton among others. Jo-El has lent his talent on the accordion to more than 100 Artist records. He continues to maintain a regular schedule as a session player. In 2004, Jo-EL recorded a duet with Chris LeDoux, on what would be Chris’s last album. In 2006 he was back in the studio, adding a little Cajun spice to the new CD by ” Hot Apple Pie”.
In addition to his virtuosity as an accordion player, he also plays bass guitar, acoustic guitar, drums and harmonica. As a songwriter, Jo-El has had his songs recorded by artists such as Johnny Cash, George Strait, EmmyLou Harris, John Anderson and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Although singing and performing are his first love, Sonnier has also done his share of acting in the movies. Among his credits you will find a role in “Mask” starring Cher and Sam Elliot. “A Thing Called Love,” and “They All Laughed“ .
In 2006 Jo-EL received his 4th. Grammy nomination for his newest traditional recording, titled, ” Cajun Mardi Gras”. With four Grammy nominations under his belt for his traditional French recordings, Sonnier continues to record and perform his traditional music to crowds around the world.
Although Jo-EL continues to color outside the lines of Nashville’s version of Country music, he continues to record his style of music for his fans to enjoy on his own Record Label, “Musique de Jo-El.” With the help of XM Radio, Jo-EL’s music is being discovered by a whole new audience through airplay of his Traditional Country recordings on Mercury Records in the 70’s.
In October 2009, Jo-EL was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. In February of 2011 he released his 30th album titled, “Where’s That Music Comin’ From?” All who know him will agree that from his heart is where the music is comin’ from.
2012 has Jo-EL back in the studio recording a new traditional Cajun French cd and he will also be heading back into the studio in the Spring to record cd #32, an all new English project that will take him in an all new direction with his music. Who knows where it will lead…but who cares…at this stage of the game it’s all about making great music. As Ray Charles put it, ” It’s gonna do what it’s gonna do”, and that’s all that really matters
Known for his incredible stage performance, Sonnier has performed all across the world;in 28 countries and in 49 states.Including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Edmonton Folk Festival to performances throughout Europe and South America and Japan. Jo-El is backed by six accomplished musicians which he calls, “Louisiana Pride”. Signing autographs and talking to the fans,
Jo-El gives 100% of himself at every show. Sonnier says, ”I perform every show as if it was my last, and it doesn‘t matter to me if there are only 25 people or 25,000 people in the audience , I still perform the same way”. Anyone who has seen his show will agree totally. One thing is clear, no matter where he is found performing, his passion and commitment to his music comes across in any language The Man, the Music and the Legend lives on……. .
There is no doubt…Jo-EL Sonnier is “The Real Deal”.l.