In Joe Falcon’s family hardworking farmers eked out a sparse existence raising cotton and sugarcane. When Joe was seven years old his father bought him an accordion, which he taught himself to play. He competed in accordion contests and often won. One day, when he was a young teenager, he brought his accordion to a dance, and was asked to sit in with the band. Thus his career began.
Joe was friendly with Amédée Breaux. He spent a lot of time with Amédée’s band playing the triangle while Amédée played the accordion. Amédée’s sister, Cléoma, played the guitar in Amédée’s band. She soon played the rhythm guitar while Joe played the accordion in the dancehalls. They were married and made their musical partnership a permanent one.
In the late 1920’s when Louisiana was blooming with some of the finest Cajun music and the accordion was, for the first time, the ‘king’ instrument, the musical team of a feisty, tough young man and his beautiful wife electrified the Cajun dancehall scene. Joe and Cléoma Falcon’s popularity was outstanding and they packed the dancehalls from Lafayette to East Texas. The curiosity of a woman playing the guitar in a dancehall at a time when the family unit formed the law in the community was a shock to the people of southwest Louisiana. (Savoy, p. 90)
Joe and Cléoma’s band was made up of family members. The band had a powerful sound played by an accordion, fiddle, steel guitar, and washboards. Its songs were predominantly old songs that were part of the family’s heritage.
Cléoma’s voice was in the middle range. She sang with a lot of emotion. “Her favorite themes were the sorrows of being taken away from one’s family and lost love. Besides the traditional songs of the past, Cléoma would translate popular western songs into French.” (Savoy, pp. 91-92) She and Joe also sang some black blues songs to fill out their repertoire.
Cléoma died in 1941 in mysterious circumstances. She had had an accident three years earlier when her sweater was caught on a car, and she was dragged a quarter of a mile and injured badly. She never recovered from the traumatic experience, and died at thirty-six years of age.
Joe continued to play with his band, but not with the interest he had shown before Cléoma’s death. His second wife, Theresa, joined the band a few years later. She played the drums and sang until Joe stopped making public appearances. Joe died in 1965.
Joe and Cléoma’s records are still well loved in Louisiana and Joe Falcon’s style of playing the accordion, though not technically as outstanding as others who followed, is considered to be a standard—a definition of traditional Cajun accordion playing. (Savoy, p. 91)