Andre Lamoreaux (1933-2021)
Today we celebrate the life of one of our local music heroes, Andre Lamoreaux–88. We all knew Andre in our own way whether as a family member, friend, a fellow musician, or one of the many people throughout the Columbia River Gorge whose lives were lifted by Andre’s voice.
This is a song of mourning and a song of celebration for a voice that has left us—for a song that will live on in memory inside each of our hearts. Andre helped me sing. He told me— “make it your own- sing like you mean it – that’s what makes a singer.” He meant adding heart-emotion, color and interpretation to the lyrics instead of just singing every song the same way.
In 2014, Bruce and I went to our first jam and country western dance at the Cherry Park Grange – after Virgil, the grange host, warmly greeted us and showed us to our seats to be part of the band –Andre was the second person who spoke to us.
He was a little old man wearing a black cowboy hat. He said, “You’ve not been here before, are you new in town, what do you play?”
“Bruce plays the fiddle, and I sing,” I said.
When he heard that word “sing” Andre got a sparkle in his eye.
Bruce told me later “Wow, that Andre he’s the real thing. Did you see the way he stood up to microphone—in complete command, and belted out “Walking the Dog” as he beat on that four-string guitar?” Indeed, people in the crowd were smiling, and dancing, and singing along. For a few minutes everyone in the room had tuned in for Andre’s show.
As time passed, I started singing the country western songs from the 1960s by artists like Patsy Cline, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams and my favorite Kitty Wells. Bruce and I started showing up to help play for the Sunday dances at area grange halls and senior centers. I also sang every song Andre thought I should sing. He’d come up and say, “I’ve got a new song for you.” And it was always a perfect choice, right for my voice and for me. I’d learn one of those songs, and sing it, and he’d come up to me afterwards and say, “I really like how you did that—how you put your heart into it.” He didn’t always say this—only when he felt I’d lived up to that ideal of making a song your own—making the song a part of you. That advice transformed my singing of classic country music.
As many of you know Andre never used a word sheet; He continually amazed us by knowing all the words to hundreds of songs in his head. And, if something slipped, he’d make it up- on the fly. We all smile when we recall how he’d take a Hank Williams or a Willie Nelson and give it that special Andre twist.
His voice reached the crowd—strong, distinct, resonate—even into his 80s. Even though his voice wasn’t the voice of a thirty-year-old, he knew how to make it work—to make the best sound out of what he did have. He gave me complete confidence that it’s possible to sing and play music well into your eighth decade.
In recent years- he ended all of his sets with “This Little Light of Mine.” And when we were playing with him, and his good friend K. C., and sometimes Joe, we all belted out the chorus in raucous harmonies, and the crowd would be yelling with us. It was terrific to play with Andre!
Andre sought out places to play music where his voice could make a difference in peoples lives. He volunteered to play in the memory units, and the old songs cut through the confusion and connected with people. We went with Andre and saw residents who had sat silent for days actually start singing a song along with us that they remembered from childhood. I can remember similar spontaneous group sings happening at the Veterans’ home when we played there with Andre. Andre brought his music to everyone—he didn’t forget those who were ill or those who were separated from ordinary walks of life.
This past year has been a rough year on our music community—we’ve lost so many fine musicians and voices –Buck, Phyllis, Bud, Joe, Bobby, Gordon, Andre…. It’s hard to say goodbye- hard to see them go. Music provided the social thread for everyone to dress up wearing rhinestones and fancy cowboy hats, and brightly embroidered shirts –to dance, tell stories, joke, hug, enjoy homemade desserts- and just spend time together. Playing music brought meaning to the musicians’ lives, and to all those who listened, and it brought us all together every week. The pandemic came and wiped that all away and separated everyone.
Those of us who are left will carry on, and hopefully we’ll have more dances and other times for sharing musical friendship, but we won’t forget those like Andre we have lost this year. These warm giving hearts and their strings, drums, and voices just can’t be replaced—even if we create a new song going forward. We love you Andre—it’s hard to say goodbye. Wherever you are- we hope you’re playing music and laughing and telling your stories once again. Maybe Bud and Phyllis, Buck, Gordon, Joe, and Bobby are there too.
A graveside ceremony is planned for late March in Washington. Once restrictions have been lifted and Senior Centers reopen, a public gathering –hopefully summer of 2021—will be scheduled to celebrate Andre and his musician friends who have lost their lives during this pandemic year.