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The Accordion

A cousin to the harmonica (both are classified by musicologists as "free reed" instruments) is the accordion, which exists in roots music in several forms. One of the earliest - one of the first of any sort - was the octagonal-shaped concertina, with sets of buttons on both sides, perfected around 1844 in England. These small bellows boxes were used by Irish and Irish-Americans as both dance instruments and as accompaniment to singing. The larger "piano-key" accordion was developed in Vienna and Paris and gained popularity in America in the early 20th century. Certain folk musicians in the South, especially buskers on street corners and railway stations, used the piano accordion as a substitute for an organ or piano, and often used them to accompany fiddlers. During the late 1930s, country star Pee Wee King, who came to the Grand Ole Opry from a Wisconsin polka-playing background, won fame with his accordion with such songs as "The Tennessee Waltz."

By the time of the Civil War, German settlers had brought the accordion to the Acadian population of southwest Louisiana, and the button accordion soon became an integral part of Cajun music, especially in the hands of masters like Joe Falcon and Nathan Abshire. A similar button accordion was introduced to tejano music about the same time, often played in a manner derived from German and other European styles. Polkas, schottisches, and waltzes were especially popular in the early days, but by the dawn of the 20th century, tejano musicians were combining the accordion with the bajo sexto to create a different style and more original repertoire. Today the accordion is still a distinctive part of Cajun and norteno music.

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