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Grammy-nominated folklorist returns to his roots as new Center for Louisiana Studies director

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On July 1, Dr. Joshua Caffery will replace his predecessor Dr. Michael Martin as the Center for Louisiana Studies’ newest director.

“Josh Caffery brings a wealth of passion, experience and engagement with Louisiana history, culture, and arts,” remarked Dr. Jordan Kellman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “Josh's musical experience, folklore training, literary production and corporate experience make him ideally suited to lead the Center for Louisiana Studies, the premiere organization dedicated to the stewardship of Louisiana culture and heritage.”

Sitting on the porch of the J. Arthur Roy House, situated just across the street from the University’s Girard Hall, Caffery began envisioning how the 117-year-old building could potentially bring new ventures to the Center under his upcoming leadership.

“The University is known for its heritage and its culture. It’s located at the epicenter of Louisiana life, and I think the Center will help magnify that, especially once we can move it from the third floor of (Edith Garland Dupré Library) to the Roy house,” Caffery said.

One of his initial undertakings as director will be to continue to raise money for the building’s restoration. Backyard music series, front porch interviews, publicly available archives, and a recording studio are just a few of projects he said he is interested in pursuing.

“Another big thing I want to focus on is generating a larger outreach to the community,” he noted. “In one way we not only want this to be a place where we are preserving and safeguarding these materials, but also where we are pushing it out into the rest of the world.

“Michael has done a great job in doing just that, and that’s something I’m going to continue to push for.”

The new director’s ties to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette exist not just as an alumnus who earned both his master’s and doctoral degrees in English and folklore studies. Caffery’s great-grandfather, Sen. Robert Martin, is the man for whom the University’s Martin Hall has been named. Still, the musician and folklorist is standing out and making a name for himself across the state.

Among his collection of published material, Caffery has authored two prominent books in Louisiana studies: “Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana: The 1934 Lomax Collection” and “In the Creole Twilight: Poems and Songs from Louisiana Folklore.”

In addition, he has produced and performed on two Grammy-nominated albums: “I Wanna Sing Right: Rediscovering Lomax in the Evangeline Country” — a collection featuring 22 Louisiana musicians — and Feufollet’s “En Couleurs.” Caffery has also won the Cajun Album of the Year award for “Allons Boire un Coup” as producer and the Icon Award for Creative Leadership from the Community Foundation of Acadiana.

The author and musician made headlines in 2013 after receiving the coveted Alan Lomax Fellowship in Folklife studies by the John W. Cluge Center at the Library of Congress. He was the the first high school teacher and U.S. citizen to receive the Lomax Fellowship, according to the Episcopal School of Acadiana, where he chaired the English Department from 2012 to 2013.

Caffery is transitioning from his job as a brand strategist and researcher for Stuller, Inc., one of the nation’s largest jewelry manufacturers, where he used his background in anthropological research to provide the company with insight on how customers view and use products.

“You know, ultimately I may work for the University, but the University works for the people of Louisiana, and I’m looking forward to being able to give back to the culture that has given me so much,” Caffery stated. “This is a time of challenges, but it’s also a time of opportunities.”