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At Grammys, zydeco music gets a spark of renewal

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Some 20 years after his New York debut, Terrance Simien has become Zydeco's modern standard-bearer – and champion for its official recognition at the Grammy awards, which airs Sunday, 8 p.m. on CBS.

In 2001, Simien and his wife, Cynthia, began lobbying the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which hosts the award ceremony, for a unique category for Cajun and zydeco artists. Back then, musicians in both genres had to compete with mainstream folk recordings – an extremely difficult proposition when the competition is, say, Mr. Dylan.

"It was sort of a revelation one day," says Cynthia, who also acts as Terrance's manager. "So many musicians had passed away without recognition. And there was no way they were going to get recognition under the current system."

Last spring, after years of organizational efforts, Cynthia and Terrance discovered the work had paid off: the academy agreed to create a special category for best zydeco or Cajun album. Additionally, Terrance and his band, the Zydeco Experience, had been nominated for an album called "Live World Wide." On Sunday, Feb. 10, Simien and six other local acts will travel to Los Angeles to participate in the Grammy ceremony. Of the seven nominees, only one is based outside of the greater Lafayette area.

"Zydeco is going through a lot of changes," says Alex Rawls, associate editor at offBeat, a music magazine based in New Orleans. "Terrance is one of the ones who is helping that along – incorporating a lot of other forms, pulling genres together. And what has happened is a real growth of zydeco that has incorporated '80s and '90s R & B, along with blues and rhythms from the Cajun country."

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