Jo-El was born in Rayne, Louisiana to poor, French speaking sharecroppers. He began to play the accordion at three years of age, first as a toy to occupy Jo-El while his parents visited with neighbors. As he grew, so did his love for the instrument and his ability to play it. Singing only in French, his Cajun heritage was very strong and clear. News of this gifted child spread, which led to a radio debut at the age of six and his first recording session at the age of eleven. As a favorite in local clubs, Sonnier remained a Louisiana sensation during his early life, but decided to try his luck in California. After several years of establishing contacts in both the music and movie industry, Jo-El longed for home and returned to Louisiana. Soon after, he set his sights on a recording deal and headed out again, this time East, to Nashville. There he continued to write and soon landed a recording contract with Mercury Records. After several years of recording and releasing singles which charted but never gained the success that he longed for, once again Sonnier decided to head home.
Frustrated and disappointed he returned to Louisiana and had almost decided to give up his accordion, which had led him down dead end streets one too many times, when he finally received a break from Merle Haggard, who sought Sonnier to open a show for him. This positive turn of events spawned his return to Los Angeles, where he began performing solo shows with the help of many notable friends including guitarist Albert Lee and the Bandís Garth Hudson. By the middle 80's, Jo-El had a Grammy nominated recording to his credit with Cajun Life. The recognition achieved with the success of Cajun Life provided the freedom to fuse Sonnierís deep Cajun roots with country, rock and other pop influences.
1987 brought about a new recording deal with RCA Records and the result was Come On Joe. Containing several top 10 hits, including "Tear-Stained Letter" and "No More One More Time."
With radio success under his belt, Jo-El began to stretch out by becoming a sought after session player in Nashville. The sounds of his accordion can be heard on the albums of such greats as Alan Jackson, Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Sammy Kershaw, the Indigo Girls, Mark Knopfler, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, Jr. and Steven Curtis Chapman among others. Jo-El is a very accomplished and versatile musician. In addition to his virtuosity as an accordion player he also plays bass guitar, acoustic guitar, drums and harmonica.
As a songwriter, Jo-El has had his songs recorded by artists such as Johnny Cash, George Strait, Mel McDaniel, John Anderson and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Although singing and performing are his first love, Sonnier has also done his share of acting in the movies. Among his credits you will find a role in Mask, starring Cher and Sam Elliot, A Thing Called Love and They All Laughed.
In 1995, Sonnier was awarded Male Vocalist of the Year and Song of the Year by the Cajun French Music Association after years of recording music totally in French. Jo-Elís culture is of utmost importance to him and he continues to record music to give back to his people, insuring that his heritage doesnít die.
Known for his incredible stage performance, Sonnier has performed all across the world; from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival to the Edmonton Folk Festival to performances throughout Europe and South America. Jo-El is backed by five accomplished musicians which he calls "Cayenne Country." Signing autographs and talking to the fans after every show, Jo-El gives 100% of himself at every show. Sonnier says, "I perform every show as if it was my last." Anyone who has seen his show will agree totally. One thing is clear, no matter where he is found performing, his passion and commitment to his music comes across in any language.
His 1997 release, "Cajun Pride," was recently nominated for a Grammy in the "Best Traditional Folk Album" category, but in true Jo-El style, he hardly rested on his laurels. In fact, he shuffled the deck on his debut Intersound Country Album, Here To Stay. As he revisits several of his hits, he also dives into rock, R&B and country with fantastic form, thus utilizing the studio to recreate the power and energy of Jo-El Live.
Throughout most of 1998, Sonnier continued to tour, but he also made some time in his busy schedule to devote more time to his songwriting and he has finally begun a lifelong dream of producing other artists. His first attempt is with a long-time friend and recording artist Paul Mac Bonvin from Switzerland, who he met several years ago while performing in Europe. He has also co-produced a new all instrumental Cajun album titled, Cajun Memories, which was nominated for Instrumental Album of the Year at the 1999 Nashville Music Awards Show.
Recently, at the Golden Music Awards, Jo-El was awarded the Male Vocalist of 1999, as well as 1999 Song of the Year for "Here To Stay," which he co-wrote.
Jo-El continues to lend a hand to fellow artists by adding a little Cajun spice to their current projects. Recently he has been called upon by the likes of Billy Yates, Rodney Crowell, The Taliesin Orchestra, Robert Cray, Paul Mac Bonvin, Trace Adkins and Leftover Salmon.
In 1999, Jo-El celebrated his 25th year of recording great country music in Nashville. Also, the Grand Ole Opry finally became more than a dream as Jo-El made his first guest appearance in May. He also released his newest traditional Cajun French album titled, Cajun Blood.
The year 2000 will find Jo-El back in the recording studio under the watchful eye of music legend, Charlie Daniels, as he produces the newest album on a simple Cajun man, Jo-El Sonnier