Museum hosts Jo-El Sonnier’s book signing

Published 9:34 am Thursday, May 24, 2018

By Ken Stickney

Jo-El Sonnier’s visit to Port Arthur on Thursday will be a homecoming of sorts.

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Born 100 miles away in Rayne, Louisiana, Sonnier has lived as close as Calcasieu Parish, at the edge of Acadiana and a short drive from the Golden Triangle.

He’ll be right at home because he’s an inductee at the Museum of the Gulf Coast, and because this small corner of Texas is chock full of Acadian names and Cajun people who trekked to Texas in the 1930s and 1940s to work in shipbuilding or in the oil and gas industry, bringing their rich culture, food and music.

A Grammy-winning musician — he found success in both the Cajun and country music worlds — he’ll appear at a free museum event from 3:30-5 p.m. He’ll sign two books — one’s a cookbook, the other a children’s book — and bring his Ayeee Cajun Power Sauce. You know you want to try that.

“We like to welcome back to the museum our inductees,” said Tom Neal, museum director. Inductees like former Memorial High and NFL running back Jamaal Charles and football coach Wade Phillips have both returned to the downtown museum for special occasions.

“It will be like a homecoming,” Neal said. “Local people love Jo-El and we tell our inductees we want to build relationships with them.”

Neal said when museum staff members learned Sonnier has been doing book signings, they invited him to Port Arthur. He’ll be accompanied by David Varnado, also a museum inductee in 2017, who got some career guidance and assistance from Sonnier.

Sonnier life is the subject of two books, “The Little Boy Under the Wagon,” which talks about his challenging childhood. Born to French-speaking cotton sharecroppers, his parents kept him under a wagon for protection while they worked the fields. He struggled socially at school because, when he started, he spoke only French. His sister-in-law, Dr. Shirley Strange-Allen, recognized some of his behaviors as consistent with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism.

Her second book, “There’s a Mouse in My Accordian,” was released this year and is a fictional account based on the real life reality that a mouse once lived in one of Sonnier’s accordions.