In The News

Musician celebrates state’s French history

This article originally appeared in the Peoria-Journal Star

By Steve Stein

WASHINGTON — Dennis Stroughmatt doesn’t fiddle around when he brings Illinois’ rich French history to life.

But he does play the fiddle.

So well that he and his band, Dennis Stroughmatt et L’Esprit Creole, performed last year at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Library of Congress and John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Stroughmatt’s 45-minute solo program, “French Influence in Southern Illinois and French Creole Fiddle Music,” and question-and-answer session will highlight the Washington Historical Society’s annual banquet at 6 p.m. April 22 at Crossroads United Methodist Church, 1420 N. Main St.

“This is mostly a speaking engagement. I’ll play five or six songs to illustrate what I’m saying,” Stroughmatt said. “I’ll sing in French, but I’ll explain the songs.”

Stroughmatt said his presentation will tell the story of French colonists from western France and Quebec who came to the Illinois Country during the 18th century.

The French merged with the native populations in what’s now Illinois, Missouri and Indiana to create a Creole culture that’s distinct from its cousins in Louisiana and Canada.

Stroughmatt, 41, who lives in Albion, said he’d planned to make a career of working at museums and historical sites, but all that changed 15 years ago when a job at Fort Massac in Metropolis fell through at the last minute.

He turned to music to make a living and the rest is history.

Stroughmatt is coming to Washington thanks to the Illinois Humanities Council’s Road Scholars Speakers Bureau, which gives not-for-profit organizations like the historical society an opportunity to present an educational program by paying the bureau only a $75 fee.

Speakers are paid an honorarium and reimbursed for travel expenses by the council.

Tickets are $25, $20 for historical society members, for dinner and Stroughmatt’s program and must be purchased by Monday at the Washington Chamber of Commerce, 114 Washington Square.

The program is free for those who don’t eat dinner.

The historical society will honor the memory of members James Gee, Gary Lucas and Charlie Slonneger, who died in recent months, during the banquet. Lindy’s Downtown Market in Washington also will be honored.

If you go

– What: “French Influence in Southern Illinois and French Creole Fiddle Music,” a program by fiddler and folklorist Dennis Stroughmatt, above, will be presented during the Washington Historical Society’s annual banquet.

– When: April 22; dinner, 6 p.m., program, 7 p.m.

– Where: Crossroads United Methodist Church, 1420 N. Main St., Washington.

– Tickets: $25; $20 for historical society members; available at the Washington Chamber of Commerce, 114 Washington Sq., 444-9921; no admission charge to Stroughmatt’s program.

Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or Read his Stein Time blog at Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.