Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural Jr., the accordionist and ambassador of zydeco music who performed under the stage name Buckwheat Zydeco, died Saturday following a battle with lung cancer. He was 68.
"It is with deep sadness that I have to announce that our great, beloved leader Stanley 'Buckwheat' Dural, Jr. has passed away. He died at 1:32 AM Louisiana time, keeping musician's hours right to the bitter end," Dural's manager Ted Fox wrote on Facebook.
"I am grieving for my best friend and colleague of more than 30 years. But, as this great road warrior once said: 'Life is a tour, and it's all about how you decide to get where you're going…I don't want to ignore the bad things in life, but I want to emphasize the good things.' Buck made everything and everyone he touched better and happier. RIP my dear friend, my brother."
Family friend Dustin Cravins added to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "It's a tough one for us and the entire Zydeco community and the greater music community. Words like legend and icon are tossed around so much these days that it almost sounds watered down, but he was the true definition of it."
In 2013, Dural Jr. first revealed that he had cancer in his lungs and vocal cords, but he expected to make a full recovery. However, in late August, the Buckwheat Zydeco Facebook page informed fans that the bandleader was still suffering from lung cancer and that "he is fighting back like the champ he is. But he needs your prayers, thoughts and best wishes." Dural's family has set up a GoFundMe page to help with the "mounting medical bills" the bandleader left behind.
Born in Lafayette, Louisiana in 1947, Dural grew up in a musical family – his father was also an accomplished accordionist – and began playing the piano at a young age. Nicknamed after the "Buckwheat" character on The Little Rascals, Dural started his career as a session musician for artists like Joe Tex and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown before fronting his own Seventies funk outfit, Buckwheat and the Hitchhikers.
Dural's father, Stanley Dural Sr., was a mechanic by trade and, according to the Times-Picayune, was the only person allowed to work on the Cadillacs owned by zydeco pioneer Clifton Chenier. That connection paid off years later as, in 1976, Dural Jr. would join Chenier's band as an organist, fully immersing himself in zydeco music, an amalgamation of R&B and blues bred in the Creole-speaking areas of southern Louisiana.
After his stint in Chenier's band, where Dural also learned to play the accordion, Dural started his own band called Buckwheat Zydeco, a moniker that would become associated with Dural Jr. himself. In 1987, after earning a reputation for their must-see live shows, Buckwheat Zydeco signed with Island Records to release their LP On a Night Like This, the first zydeco album ever released on a major label.
Over the next five decades and nearly 25 albums, Buckwheat Zydeco would help popularize zydeco music thanks to their heavy touring schedule and collaborations with artists like U2, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, Willie Nelson and many more.
In the case of Simon and Nelson, Buckwheat Zydeco perform at both artists' Gershwin Prize Honoree's Tribute Concerts. Buckwheat Zydeco was also on hand to perform alongside Jimmy Fallon during the final episode of his Late Night in February 2014.
Buckwheat Zydeco's last release was 2009's Lay Your Burden Down. Despite his health issues, Dural Jr. joined his band onstage in April at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest. "We bid farewell to the legend that is Buckwheat Zydeco. We love you Buck. Thanks for all the zydeco dance parties," the festival tweeted Saturday.
"We've lost our leader. RIP Buck. The pain is great, but so is the love we will always have for you," the group wrote on Twitter.