By Howard Marshall
Lloyd Lalumondier, the legendary French-American old-time, bluegrass, country, and swing fiddler from Festus, Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri, died June 30, 2015 from the cumulative complications of ill health. Lloyd was 91, and had been in failing health since the death of his wife and musical partner, Georgena, in 2013. After Georgena’s death, he had been moved to an assisted care center in Mission, Kansas, in order to be near the loving care of his daughter and son-in-law, Daria and Mike Carpenter.
Lalumondier was born in Bloomsdale, where his father, Albert, had been a stonemason and built or supervised construction of numerous buildings in the area, including public works projects where Albert supervised Civilian Conservation Corps workers during the 1930s and early 1940s. The Lalumondier family had come to the old Ste. Genevieve District in the 1700s from Quebec, and were known for their skills in the construction trades. Records indicate that branches of the family had come from southwestern France to Canada as early as 1666. One of the family houses built in the ancient Norman French framing tradition in St. Genevieve, the Antoine LaLumendiére house, is listed in The National Register of Historic Places. A natural historian, Lloyd Lalumondier, who was one quarter German, was keenly interested in local cultural heritage and enjoyed giving guests tours of the old French communities. Lloyd himself became an aircraft instructor and pilot, and for many years worked in the PPG ceramic glass industry in nearby Crystal City.
Lloyd started out in music by playing guitar for other fiddlers, but soon took up the violin. While in grade school in the 1930s, his mother sent Lloyd and his sister Irma to the Catholic sisters at their parish school to be taught accordion, 25 cents a lesson, but the lad’s mind was locked into fiddle music.
As a young man he was brought into the old French “Guillonnée” group in Bloomsdale in which his father, Albert, was the leader and one of the fiddlers, and they took part in the New Year’s Eve mumming rituals for many years. (Albert Lalumondier’s “Guillonnée” is documented in Henry Belden’s world-famous 1914 collection of Missouri ballads and folk songs.) Lloyd finally quit fiddling in the annual Guillonnée in the 1990s when the local group leader barred Georgena from playing guitar in the group for the mumming procession, even though she was asked to replace the absent guitarist and even though she wore a costume and disguise (as all the group did), because she was a woman.
Lloyd Lalumondier (most people today pronounce the name “lahmun’deer”)was versatile and soaked up all the music he could, not only from the old-time fiddlers in his community such as Jess Drury and Vallé Winters, but from fiddling at dances and swapping tunes with other fiddlers, radio, records, and other venues. He also enjoyed playing one or two “Cajun” dance tunes, even though this twentieth-century music form from Louisiana was different from the old Missouri French music he grew up with. In his early days, he fiddled with several country bands that played on live radio shows and for old-time dances in the old French district. He could recall with great detail the customs of the French community’s dance traditions in comparison with the traditions of other groups; in his region, the original French musical heritage was overlaid and sorted into not only the early Kentucky and Virginia-type Scotch-Irish fiddlers but with the many German-speaking immigrant musicians who in some ways came to dominate the communities in this area of along the Mississippi River south of St. Louis.
Lloyd loved playing twin fiddle and loved waltzes. He was a born teacher, and was able to convey complicated fiddling techniques to others. I met Lloyd Lalumondier in the early 1980s at a spring dance and fiddlers’ get-together at the senior citizen’s center in Potosi. Like other seasoned fiddlers, he would lead a set of tunes for the dancing (in the lineup of fiddlers willing to do so), and then repair to a back room or the basement to pile into a hot session of hard-core fiddling. I shared Lloyd’s enjoyment of waltzes and playing twin fiddle, and we became friends.
I visited Lloyd and Georgena a number of times and on one occasion Georgena prepared her “bouillon” recipe and we enjoyed a classic Missouri French meal together before a good session of fiddling and talking. As I was preparing a 2012 book, “Play Me Something Quick and Devilish” (University of Missouri Press), I turned to Lloyd Lalumondier as my guide through the old French communities and their music, and his own saga anchors the chapter on French-American fiddling in the book.
In his final years, only fiddle music seemed to rouse him from the grasp of dementia. He never quite recovered from Georgena’s death. In Mission, Daria arranged for the fiddler and fiddle teacher Pat Ireland to meet with Lloyd and give him some “fiddle lessons,” which helped keep Lloyd’s mind active. I last saw Lloyd, who I valued greatly as a friend and fiddling colleague, in Kansas City’s Swope Park in the fall of 2014, when Daria and Mike brought him to a fiddle history program I presented with Kathy Gordon and Russ Ravert. While he could no longer play with the marvelous grace and power of his younger years, he brightened as we visited and played some of the old tunes together with Pat.
In addition to his great fiddle music and illuminating anecdotes, I remember Lloyd’s quick wit, subtle jokes (always delivered with a twinkle in his eye), and his big smile, always ready for a visit and a tune. Rest in peace.