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Opelousas with Florennes, Belgium.
The city of Opelousas became known as the "Zydeco Music Capital of the World" in 2000 when the Louisiana Legislature made official what locals already knew. It's the birthplace of Clifton Chenier (1925-1987), a master accordionist hailed as the King of Zydeco and the first musician to lift zydeco to an international stage. In 2014, he earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Louisiana's third oldest city was founded by the French about 1720 as a military station and trading post with the Opelousas Indians. French coureurs des bois had been coming into the area for a while, and they were followed closely by French missionaries who were determined to convert the Indians and pray for the trappers. Opelousas soon became a stopping point for travelers going to and from Natchitoches and New Orleans.
Although the territory war ruled in turn by the French and Spanish, neither government encouraged colonization. Nevertheless, by 1769, about 100 families were living in Opelousas. When the Spanish military pulled out of the colony, many of the soldiers who had come from throughout the Spanish empire, including Swiss and Italian mercenaries, stayed in Opelousas. Besides French and Spanish settlers, the area also attracted English, Scotch, Irish, and German colonists, as well as a group of Acadian exiles who settled along the banks of the area bayous. Men and women of African heritage began arriving in the 1700s as slaves, gens de couleur libres, and free blacks.
During the Civil war, Opelousas served as the capital of Confederate Louisiana for a short time. The home of Charles Homére Mouton on Liberty Street was used as the governor's home during this period. Also, during the Civil war, the city was used as a command post and training camp by the Confederacy and the Union.
After the war, the city began to grow and prosper with the establishment of the railroad, which connected Opelousas to the rest of the world. Today, the primary industries are agriculture, oil, manufacturing, wholesale and retail.
Visitors to this lovely old city will be delighted by the architecture, the shaded streets, the wonderful cuisine and, of course, the music. Named the Home of Zydeco Music, Opelousas is also the birthplace of the King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier.
Tour the city during the day, stopping along the way to sample everything from homemade boudin and cracklins to the luxurious Cajun and Creole dishes. End your day with an evening of dancing at one of the area's zydeco or Cajun clubs. Or experience the area's newest attraction, Evangeline Downs Racetrack and Casino, which opened in December 2003.
And remember, each year, Saturday before Labor Day, thousands attend the Original Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival in Plaisance, on the outskirts of Opelousas. Since 1982, this one-day festival of Creole music and culture attracts visitors from throughout the United States and the world.
The Opelousas Cultural District, effective since July 2012, is a part of the Louisiana Cultural Districts (LCD) program. Here, visitors reap part of the benefits as sales of original artworks are tax-free while local communities are revitalized.