NEW ORLEANS — Musician Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural Jr., who rose from a cotton-picking family in southwest Louisiana to introduce zydeco music to the world through his namesake band Buckwheat Zydeco, has died. He was 68.
His longtime manager Ted Fox told the Associated Press that Mr. Dural died early Saturday morning. He had suffered from lung cancer.
Fox said the musician and accordionist died at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lafayette, La. Mr. Dural gained fame by introducing zydeco music of southwest Louisiana to the world.
"This is one of the world's true genius musicians. A completely natural musician who could just fit in in any scenario," Fox said.
Zydeco music was well known across southwest Louisiana where people would often drive for miles to small dance halls where zydeco bands featuring an accordion and a washboard would rock the crowds for hours.
But Mr. Dural took zydeco music mainstream, launching a major-label album — the Grammy-nominated On a Night Like This — with Island Records in 1987. He went on to jam with musical greats like Eric Clapton, play at former President Bill Clinton's inauguration and perform at the 1996 Olympics closing ceremony in Atlanta.
He jammed with Jimmy Fallon on the final episode of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Fallon played the guitar backed up by the Roots while Buckwheat Zydeco rocked the accordion.
Mr. Dural earned his nickname because he had braided hair when he was younger that resembled Buckwheat from The Little Rascals television show.
Born Nov. 14, 1947, in Lafayette, Mr. Dural was one of 13 children. His father played the accordion but the younger Dural preferred listening to and playing rhythm and blues and learned to play the organ, his obituary said.
By the late 1950s he was backing up musicians and eventually formed his own band. It wasn't until 1978 though that he took up the accordion so closely associated with zydeco music and later formed his own band called Buckwheat Zydeco, his obituary said.
It was the 1987 Island Records five-record deal that eventually brought Mr. Dural to a wider audience, and he went on to tour with Clapton, and record with artists such as Ry Cooper, Paul Simon, Dwight Yoakam and Willie Nelson.
Fox called him an "old-fashioned showbiz professional" who was always focused on giving the audience — regardless of whether they were eight or 80,000-strong — a good time.
"He had this charisma. He had this incredible charisma both onstage and personally," Fox said. "He was a real genuine person. To the end of his days with all the stuff that he'd done, all the awards, he was still the same Stanley Dural Jr. who was picking cotton when he was 5 years old."
Mr. Dural is survived by his wife, Bernite Dural, and five children.