PORTLAND, Maine — Guitarist and singer Rob Sylvain never heard his grandmother, Elisa, sing the traditional Acadian folk songs she knew and loved. But when she died in 1998, she left behind a tattered, spiral-bound notebook filled with handwritten lyrics.
The journal eventually found its way to Sylvain. He’s spent the last decade researching the songs, reuniting them with their lost melodies and learning to sing them in both French and English. Now, he’s ready to record some of the songs she taught him via her elegant script for a double-CD project he’s calling “Memere’s Notebook.”
Sylvain’s grandmother was born Elisa Thibodeau in the St. John River Valley. She was one of 12 siblings. Elisa married a local boy, Henry Sylvain, who also had a large French-speaking family. They moved to Waterville to work in the mills and raised their family there.
Sylvain’s father, Robert, was one of their children. He grew up speaking French at home and English in public — but that’s where the Acadian heritage stopped. He didn’t pass French on to his children.
Troy R. Bennett
Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.
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