Carol Fran–Blues Music Legend, Lafayette Native–Dies
Lafayette and Acadiana are mourning the loss of a homegrown blues and soul music legend.
Carol Fran died Wednesday. She was 87. According to Downbeat Magazine, who interviewed Fran last month about the cancellation of Jazz Fest, Fran had recently battled COVID-19. An official cause of death has not been announced.
“Truthfully, no I don’t," Fran told Downbeat when asked if she thought organizers should have canceled Jazz Fest. "I didn’t want them to postpone it. I’m ready to go to work. You know I’ve been away from work for a long time.”
Fran was born in Lafayette on October 23, 1933. She began her career in her teens as a jump blues singer. She later relocated to New Orleans and married saxophone player Bob Francois, whose last name she shortened to take her stage name. She became a fixture on the New Orleans music scene and on the international stage, touring with Ray Charles, Lee Dorsey, Joe Tex, and other notable Black music stars.
"In 1953, she was touring the world sharing Louisiana culture with the world," John Williams, Fran's friend and the founder of the Blue Monday Mission, said. "Keep in mind in 1953, 1955, this is a Black woman touring the world sharing that culture."
Fran branched out on her own and found success with her debut single, the 1957 single "Emmitt Lee." That song became a regional hit and earned her a spot as a touring singer with Guitar Slim. Her later singles were unsuccessful, leading Fran to quit recording and stick to the club touring circuit.
In the 1980s, Fran partnered with guitarist Clarence Holliman to form a duo, the Holliman Express. They released three albums together, toured the United States and Europe, and taught blues music to students in Texas. During that same time, Fran resumed her solo recording career, releasing five albums between 1992 and 2001. Fran also became a regular on the Louisiana festival circuit, making multiple appearances at Le Festival International de Louisiane, New Orleans Jazz Fest, and many others.
Her work earned her two Female Artist of the Year nominations from the Blues Music Awards (1993 and 2001). In 2006, Fran won the Louisiana Governor's Arts Award for Folk Artist of the Year. Two year's later, Lafayette City-Parish Council presented Fran with its Distinguished Citizen Award. In 2012, she received the Slim Harpo Blues Award for Female Legend of the Year. One year later, the National Endowment for the Arts named Fran as one of its National Heritage Fellow.
Fran suffered a stroke in 2007, but she returned to the stage just a few months after. According to Williams, that refusal to stop was part of Fran's character.
"She was unapologetically herself," Williams said. "She showed people what it meant to be yourself."
Williams says Fran always kept things real with her friends and family. Through that, he says, Fran made everyone around her better.
"She was a beautiful woman, a hard woman," Williams said. "In that time and era, she had to be hard, but she taught so much. She taught everybody everything. The way she commanded the band, the way she handled her businesses. She gave her mom credit for how she handled her career. The way she served her family. She taught people in this industry how to be strong and how to be a decent person. She taught other musicians how to find your own voice (and) not sit and copy someone else."
Funeral arrangements are pending.