Today we celebrate the memory of Michel Lavigniac even as we mourn his loss. He was an extraordinary husband, father, musician and friend.
Born in 1938, he was first raised in Argenton-Sur-Cruse by his maternal grandparents Andre and Josephine in Nazi occupied France. After liberation, he moved to Paris to live with his mother Georgette. There he taught himself to play the banjo in traditional jazz bands, first on street corners and later in the clubs--once sitting in with jazz legend Sidney Bechet.
Drafted into the French Army in 1958 for a three year tour in Algeria, he would only wear Keds on his feet and took pride in being punished for protesting the treatment of prisoners.
After his service, he realized his life-long dream of coming to America in ‘64. Arriving with $300 dollars to work as a dishwasher in a French restaurant in New York, he taught himself English from watching TV before shifts. Soon, he parlayed his experience playing banjo in Paris to gigs in America where he pleased crowds from Denver to Cape Cod. Known for his incredibly fast playing, fellow musicians named him The Flying Frenchman.
While playing at a pub on Cape Cod he met Judith, a nurse moonlighting as a waitress. From their first date walking along Sandy Neck beach, with her young son Michael in tow, their lives, as Michael once wrote in a grade school essay, changed forever. From that day on, Michel and Judith traveled, laughed, and loved one another with all their hearts for the next 40 years. As a husband, he was a supporter of dreams, and a bedrock of strength and love. As a father he modeled sangfroid and kindness tempered with self care. As a friend and musician he loved to make you smile. He leaves behind loved ones on both sides of the Atlantic who will keep the spirit of this good man alive so long as the memories he gave us endure. In lieu of flowers, the next time you see a street musician, give them a little something in honor of The Flying Frenchman.