Swamp pop music entertainer and broadcaster Rod Bernard passed away on July 12, 2020, in New Iberia, Louisiana, after a short illness.
He was born Rodney Ronald Louis Bernard in Opelousas, Louisiana, on August 12, 1940. As a child he learned to play guitar, sing, and yodel. As a teenager Bernard and high-school friends formed a band called Rod Bernard and the Twisters. In 1958 they issued their own version of King Karl & Guitar Gable’s song “This Should Go On Forever.” Originally released on the Jin label of Ville Platte, then licensed to the Argo label of Chicago, Bernard’s version became a national hit, propelling him onto Alan Freed’s rock ‘n’ roll show, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and concerts and tours with Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, B. B. King, Duane Eddy, Roy Orbison, and Frankie Avalon, among others.
In coming years Bernard released many regional hits that today remain swamp pop classics. These include “Congratulations To You Darling,” “Forgive,” “Loneliness,” “Fais Do-Do,” and his own bilingual (French and English) version of the Cajun classic “Colinda.” In 1976 he teamed up with fellow Opelousas native, zydeco legend Clifton Chenier, to record the Jin album Boogie In Black & White — for its time a groundbreaking biracial collaboration.
In addition to his music career, Bernard worked in radio and television his entire life. For many years in the 1960s he deejayed, sold airtime, and served as a program director at KVOL radio in Lafayette. (Bernard was instrumental in hiring Lafayette’s first African-American deejay, Paul Thibeaux, who joined KVOL in 1965.) Around 1970 Bernard switched to a career in television and for nearly 30 years worked as an advertising executive and on-air talent for Lafayette’s KLFY-TV 10. He often appeared in television commercials and guest-hosted the channel’s long-popular Passe Partout and Meet Your Neighbor programs. He retired in 2018 from the Acadiana Broadcasting Group.
In his personal time Bernard enjoyed watching classic westerns, barbequing, cooking chicken and sausage gumbo, and listening to country and western, blues, and rhythm and blues music. He also loved to spend time with his family, especially his three grandchildren. In 2010 Bernard celebrated his 70th birthday by parachuting from an airplane — telling his family only after he returned from the jump.
Bernard was preceded in death by his parents, Louis Varnum “L.V.” Bernard Jr. and Irene Bordelon Bernard. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Jo Ann King, originally of Magnolia, Mississippi, and a longtime resident of Lafayette, now residing in New Iberia; his brother, Oscar Bernard of Scott; his children, Shane K. Bernard of New Iberia and Shannon Bernard Bourg of Metairie; three grandchildren, Colette A. Bernard and Alexandre T. Bernard of Lafayette, and Ella G. Bourg of Metairie; his daughter-in-law, Amy Lancon Bernard of New Iberia; and his son-in-law, Rusty Bourg, of Metairie.
Bernard proudly served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve from 1962 to 1968, attaining the rank of sergeant. He was later active in the Lafayette-area Marine Corps League. His family asks that donations be made to the U.S. Marines’ Toys for Tots campaign at www.toysfortots.org. At his request no funeral will be observed.
The Bernard family would like to thank the New Iberia Police Department, Acadian Ambulance, and Iberia Medical Center for their swift response, concern, and professionalism.