Jillian Johnson: An appreciation

No sooner had President Obama told the BBC that his failure to pass “common sense gun safety laws” has been the greatest frustration of his presidency, the TV news outlets were stuck on the latest episode of what is so wrongly called “senseless” gun violence. After all, when anybody can get a gun, it makes all the sense in the world that sickos will use them indiscriminately, if not with discrimination.

“If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands,” Obama said, before he had the chance to add two more victims to the tally. Of course, with those numbers and the every week if not every day frequency, it’s only a matter of time before a gun killing episode would hit close to home, if not home itself.

I knew it was my time as soon as I saw that last night’s killings took place in Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart of Acadiana–Cajun country. I used to go there once a year on my way to Eunice, to enjoy the gracious Cajun hospitality and traditions of dear friends Marc and Ann Savoy and their equally wonderful and talented children Sarah, Joel, Wilson and Gabrielle. Lafayette’s the biggest town in Acadiana, but small enough for anyone to know at least someone I know. In the case of Jillian Johnson, sadly, it was many.

“It’s sad that we have to lose someone and after they’re gone, we tell them how amazing and inspiring they were to us, words that they’ll never see or hear,” wrote Wilson Savoy on Facebook, about his friend Jillian, one of the two shot to death by the hate-filled lunatic at Lafayette’s Grand 16 movie theater. She was 33.

“I met Jillian in 2003 and she changed my life forever,” continued Wilson, a Cajun accordion whiz like his father, and a Grammy winner, with Wayne Toups and Steve Riley, for the album The Band Courtbouillon, which was released by his older brother Joel in 2011 on his Valcour Records label. “She inspired me more than anyone else in my younger years, and I wish I had told her what an amazing person she was before it was too late. Before her show last Saturday, before she jumped on stage with The Figs, we stood together on the side of the stage at Blue Moon and chatted all about the past and the future, about her grand plans for projects, renovations, exciting new stuff. Never a dull moment with Jillian. I never said it in the past, but I’ll say it now. Thank You Jillian. I love you.”

His mom Ann, a Cajun music historian and Grammy-nominated artist who performs with numerous bands and artists including Linda Rondstadt, the Magnolia Sisters, the Savoy Doucet Cajun Band and the Savoy Family Band, echoed him: “Yes if only I had seen her recently or if only I had told her more about how amazing she was, everyday…but she knew how we felt, I’m sure..world sadder without her existence…Wilson, that was so well said….” Later, on a burgeoning Remembering Jillian Johnson Facebook page, she added: “Of all the people in the world, why did this one truly astonishing young woman have to go? Brilliant photographer, artist, designer…fun and funny person…gorgeous…I love her so much…goodbye, young friend….”

Sister Sarah Dover Savoy Gonzales, a musician and cookbook author, now living in France, wrote, “Jillian? Don’t be hurt too badly. Please don’t be dead. I just woke up to this news. You’re the closest female friend I ever had.” Speaking to Wilson, she later posted: “We used to joke that she’d marry you…and we’d all live on a farm together.”

Brother Joel, who has also played in numerous bands including the Red Stick Ramblers, wrote: “Makes me think about the early days of the Red Stick Ramblers at LSU. How many times did we stand in front of Jillian Johnson’s camera playing music or goofing off. Her being gone now makes me realize how all those moments she captured are also long gone–the band, that goofy light-hearted easy friendship, busking on campus…. What Id give to stand in front of that camera again and pose for my friendly nemesis. Rest in Peace J”

And from Joel’s wife Kelli Jones-Savoy, currently on the road with the acclaimed progressive Cajun band Feufollet: “So sad and heartbroken to hear about the awful happenings in a city I love so much, and heartbroken to hear our loss of such an amazing woman. Jillian Johnson was an inspiration and a beautiful person. Sending love to everyone and wishing I wasn’t so far from home right now.”

According to New Orleans’ OffBeat Magazine, Jillian had come to Lafayette from Tennessee and embedded herself in the local music scene. She did promotional work for bands including the Red Sticks, documented Acadiana’s music and formed a wonderful old-timey, all-female string band, The Figs–which I’m sure I saw. She was a big supporter of leauxcal music and businesses and owned two of them, the design and apparel stores Parish Ink and The Red Arrow Workshop. Her motto was “Be nice, do good work, try hard, listen, love.”

On Facebook, director/writer Tom Krueger, who made the 2007 Red Stick Ramblers “Made in the Shade” video, wrote: “So random, senseless, and devastating. What a huge loss. One of our dearest and brightest. Jillian was a huge part of why I moved to Lafayette. I’ll never forget the moment I met her, at Festivals Acadiens, just so full of life, joy, and style. Then, this person I hardly knew, jumped head first into the making of the Red Stick Ramblers video, organizing all the costumes and extras and so much more. I thought, if this community is filled with people like her, I want to live here. So, I did. Since that time I would come to know one of the most creative and interesting forces in Lafayette, not to mention our extended community, around the country and beyond. What an amazing and beautiful woman. She will be greatly missed.”

Krueger concluded: “It makes you realize the need to reach out to those we love and show them so, and reach out to those who are so full of hate and just try to show them another way…Every day. Every moment. We will love you always and miss you so much, Jillian. xoxox”

3 thoughts on “Jillian Johnson: An appreciation

  • July 24, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    Beautiful piece Jim.
    Now these MF’s are murdering musicians…..people who dedicate their lives to bringing beauty into the world.
    When will it stop?

  • July 24, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    The insanity of gun violence really hits home when you actually have known and worked with a victim as was the case with Jillian. We can’t let this horror continue.

  • July 25, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Thanks, Russ.

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