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Cajun Music Legend D.L. Menard Has Died, Age 85

D.L. Menard (right), performing at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Menard died Thursday at age 85.
D.L. Menard (right), performing at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Menard died Thursday at age 85.

Songwriter, vocalist and guitarist D.L. Menard, a Louisiana music icon, has died. His 1962 song "La Porte d'en arrière" ("The Back Door") was one of the most popular — and most-covered — Cajun tunes of all time. Menard died Thursday at age 85; the New York Times reports that he had suffered from a number of ailments, including cancer and heart problems.

As Menard himself explained, the inspiration for "La Porte d'en arrière" was Hank Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues." It's a sly, good-times tale of dancing, hard drinking and going to jail. Three years ago, Rolling Stone Magazine named it one of the top 100 country songs of all time.

D.L. Menard was born Doris Leon Menard on April 14, 1932, in Erath, La., and first picked up a guitar at age 16. For much of his life, music-making wasn't enough to sustain his family. He wrote "La Porte d'en arriere" while working at a gas station, and for decades, he was the owner of a furniture-making company, where he specialized in crafting wooden rocking chairs.

Along with earning two Grammy nominations, Menard was inducted into both the Cajun Music Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. He also received a prestigious National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest award given to a traditional musician.

Menard was also an important ambassador for diversity in American music: He traveled to nearly 40 countries under the auspices of the State Department to share Cajun music.

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