In Memoriam: Carol Fran

Published on: September 4th, 2021

906 Carol Fran and Marcia Ball in 2011 [Photo by Jef Jaisun]

Carol Fran and Marcia Ball in 2011 [Photo by Jef Jaisun]
Carol Fran and Marcia Ball in 2011 [Photo by Jef Jaisun]

Blues singer and pianist Carol Fran died September 1, 2021 at the age of 87. Her distinctive voice and piano-playing style afforded her a musical career spanning more than six decades. Fran was associated with Excello Records and the “swamp blues” genre, characterized by a mixture of laid back vocals and Cajun and Zydeco rhythms. She was a beloved live performer who gained most of her accolades on Bourbon Street and in Europe. 

Fran was a Lafayette native well-known for her wit, storytelling, stage presence, and big heart. But she was best known to audiences for her raspy, soulful voice. Fran performed in both English and her native Cajun French. 

She was born in Lafayette in 1933 into a family of seven children. At 14, Fran left home to go on tour with the Don Conway Orchestra. At 15, she toured with Joe Lutcher, the Louisiana jump blues saxophonist and his band, the Society Cats. Fran also toured with Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles, Lee Dorsey, Joe Tex, and more. When she was 17, she made her way to New Orleans where she performed at the Dew Drop Inn and married Bob Francois. She then shortened her last name to the stage-friendly “Fran” and became one of Bourbon Street’s mainstays. 

Her first single, ‘Emmitt Lee,’ was released in 1957 on Excello Records. In 1958, she toured with Guitar Slim. During the 1960s, she recorded extensively and toured with Gladys Knight, Mary Wells, and The Ronettes, as well as performing her own material in Gulf Coast nightclubs. In 1983, she remarried guitarist Clarence Holliman. Together, they formed the Holliman Express. This duo released three albums together, toured the United States and Europe, and taught blues music to students through the Texas Folklife Resources program as artists-in-residence.

Fran released five albums between 1992 and 2001 and became a regular on the Louisiana festival circuit. Her final solo album, Fran-tastic, was released in 2001. She was nominated for Female Artist of the Year at the Blues Music Awards twice (1993 and 2001). In 2006, she was recognized with the Louisiana Governor’s Art Award for Folk Artist of the Year. In 2007, Fran suffered from a stroke but was back onstage at Jazz Fest just a few months later. And in 2008, the Lafayette City-Parish Council presented her with its Distinguished Citizen Award. In 2012, she won the Slim Harpo Blues Award for Female Legend of the Year and in 2013, she was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts. She also performed at WWOZ’s annual Piano Night multiple times. 

A tribute is scheduled for Saturday, September 11 from 11am-2pm at the Grouse Patio in Lafayette. Masks will be required.

Below, a few photos that we’ve captured of Carol over the years, as well as her performance of ‘Money’ with Lil Buck Sinegal at the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette on August 15, 2014.

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