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D. L. Menard, creator of the Cajun music anthem “The Back Door,” has died.
Caitlin Jacob

LAFAYETTE, La. — Since the song was created 55 years ago, The Back Door took D.L. Menard to 38 countries, 42 states and countless appearances at local festivals and cultural events. The Cajun-French hit allowed him to rub shoulders with celebrities from Eric Clapton to Hillary Clinton. He received a National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor for folk artists.

But Menard, who died last Thursday, had a final request for his funeral — no more Back Door.

“D.L. was clear in his last days that he did not want his signature song, La Porte d’en Arriere, sung at his funeral,” said retired folklorist Barry Ancelet, a guest speaker at Menard’s funeral Monday. “He said he was planning to go into heaven happily through the pearly gates and not sneaking in through the back door.”

Stories and memories about Menard’s life and songs flowed Monday at Family Life Church in Lafayette, where his son Todd serves as pastor. A choir with Menard’s children and grandchildren sang spiritual songs throughout the service, punctuated by words from Ancelet, musician Terry Huval and Menard’s son, Dick.

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Menard’s death, at age 85, has been reported in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone and other national media. The stories recalled Menard, “The Cajun Hank Williams,” and his legacy of poetic Cajun French songs, which often had country influences.

None match the notoriety of The Back Door, a two-step inspired by Williams’ Honky Tonk Blues, which many have called the Cajun national anthem. Recorded in 1962, the two-step about sneaking home through the back door after a long night of honky-tonks remains wildly popular today.

Every Cajun band must play the song at least once during performances. The tune is often the first one accordion players learn.

But Ancelet praised Menard for his other songs, which often had lyrics of death, the hope of paradise and the sense of loss for those left behind.

“We are all fortunate and richer for having D.L. in our lives,” said Ancelet. “He generously shared his friendship, his humor, his unique philosophy, his loyalty, his love. Not to mention that wink, that smile, that handshake, that slap on the shoulder, that voice.

“We won’t have him to sing those songs. But happily, they are being sung by most contemporary Cajun musicians. They will likely be for many more generations.”

The service was also filled with laughs about Menard’s comical personality and one-liners delivered in his trademark loud, deadpan voice. Huval, who played and traveled with Menard for more than 25 years, recalled a limousine ride in New York City.

Menard was moved to correct the speeding driver.

“The driver slammed on his brakes really hard, after going in and out of lanes,” said Huval. “D.L. was in the back with his cowboy hat on. You could almost feel him levitate.

“He said, ‘Hey, cab driver. You might want to slow that thing down. It’s not that I’m scared — but I’m kind of concerned.”

Menard is survived by seven children, 17 grandchildren and 27 great grandchildren. He was buried at Our Lady of Lourdes Cemetery in his hometown of Erath.

Follow Herman Fuselier on Twitter: @HermanFuseTDA

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