Jo-El Sonnier, the Cajun country singer whose Grammy Award-winning career chronicled the trials and tribulations of Southern Americans, passed away at the age of 77 after delivering a final performance that drew a standing ovation.
Sonnier spent Saturday performing for a sold-out show at the Llano Country Opry in Llano, Texas before his health troubles began. A representing from Heart of Texas Records, which owns the Opry, described the singer’s final moments charming fans before a sudden heart attack set in.
“Jo-El Sonnier had just completed an incredible show at the Llano Country Opry in Llano, Texas,” Tracy Pitcox wrote on Facebook according to the Daily Caller. “He had entertained over an hour and ended with his signature ‘Tear Stained Letter’. He received a standing ovation and I asked him to do ‘Jambalaya’ as an encore.
“He performed a rousing rendition of that classic. Jo-El mentioned that he needed to rest for just a few minutes before signing autographs,” she said. “Unfortunately, he suffered cardiac arrest and was air flighted to Austin where he was pronounced deceased.
“It is never easy to lose a legend, but he truly spent his final day doing what he loved-entertaining his fans with his loving wife Bobbye by his side,” she wrote in her statement.
The “No More One More Time” singer stood out in the 70s and 80s era of classic country with his use of an accordion but at one point nearly abandoned his budding career. Sonnier, the son of Louisiana sharecroppers, took to music from an early age and performed on the radio by the age of six, and by his teens had released a slew of independent singles that led to his signing with Mercury Nashville Records. However, the limited commercial success of his first record led Sonnier to return to the Cajun music of his youth for a time, though he did earn a Grammy nomination.
Through the early 80s, Sonnier partnered with and opened for a number of high-profile country artists at the time including Albert Lee, who was then helping to spearhead Nashville’s traditional-country revival as part of Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band. His 1987 single “No More One More Time” broke into the Billboard Country Top 10, cementing his inclusion into the neo-traditionalist country style at its crest.
With the 90s came a wave of country music grounded in the rock ‘n’ roll of earlier decades, leaving Sonnier and his contemporaries behind. He dabbled in acting for a time, taking small roles in films such as Mask, They All Laughed, and A Thing Called Love. The later half of his career saw his return to Cajun music, which ultimately earned him a Grammy in 2015 for Best Regional Roots Music Album with his release of “The Legacy”.
He was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009 and collected five Grammy nods over the course of his 57-year career.