Kylie Griffin brings her love of southern Louisiana music, culture and language into her classroom at Dozier Elementary School in Erath, Louisiana. She wants her students to appreciate the cultural identity of their community at a time when Cajun and Créole French culture are rapidly declining. “In 1921, French was banned in Louisiana schools in an effort to Americanize the state’s population,” Griffin explains. “Our grandparents were humiliated and abused for speaking French. That’s why I teach Cajun and Créole French songs to my students as well as use French in my classroom.”
Griffin says that the music she teaches has inspired the community as a whole. “Family members tell me how much it means to them to hear their children sing French songs, especially to their grandparents who speak the language fluently,” she says.
Outside her music classroom, Griffin finds time to promote the area’s music through groups like the Bayou Tigre Steppers, the state’s first school-sponsored, student-led zydeco ensemble, which she started in 2021. This Bayou Tigre Steppers consist of older students who want to continue playing the music of their families. “My goal with this ensemble is to create lifelong musicians who can preserve and continue our beautiful culture,” she says.
Griffin’s love of zydeco started during her graduate studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where she played in the Ragin’ Steppers band. After graduating, Griffin and her husband, Gregg, started their own group called Poisson Rouge, which just released “Là -Bas,” its first full album that is available on all streaming platforms.
Griffin also started Petits Cajuns, a Cajun French music camp, with her husband and Jason Harrington — both music teachers in the district. Camp attendees choose to learn accordion, fiddle or acoustic guitar. “Our goal as music educators is to create lifelong musicians who want to continue to play in some capacity after they leave our music program, even if that means singing or playing songs for their children later down the road,” she says. “I hope that students in my classes, the Bayou Tigre Steppers and campers at Pettis Cajuns will continue to play and sing Cajun, Créole French and zydeco music!”