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Texas Guinan: From Waco To the Great White Way

Posted by mcorcoran on June 23, 2016

Mary Louise Cecilia "Texas" Guinan

Mary Louise Cecilia “Texas” Guinan, circa 1904

During Prohibition, the life of New York City’s illegal party was a former cowgirl from Waco named Mary Louise “Texas” Guinan. Greeting customers with “Hello, Sucker!” and deci-bellowing “Curfew shall not ring tonight!”, Guinan turned pure brass into gold during the Roaring Twenties. Her talent to foster excitement “from eleven to seven” made her the richest hostess on Broadway. Newspaperman Edmund Wilson described her as “this prodigious woman, with her pearls, her glittering bossom, her abundant, beautifully bleached yellow coiffure, her formidable trap of shining white teeth, her broad back behind its grating of green velvet, the full-blown peony as big as a cabbage on her broad green thigh.”

Enamored of the pearls which hung from her patter were columnists Walter Winchell and Ed Sullivan, who dotted their columns with Tex’s witticisms. Once taking a chug of water, she said, “This is great stuff… for going under bridges.” She once put down an unnamed Broadway actree by saying “Her brain is as good as new.” She hated prudes and once said, “Some people are so narrow-minded their ears touch in the back.”

Guinan (b. 1884) left Waco with her Irish immigrant parents at age 14 when her father took a job as solicitor in Denver. There, she married commercial artist John Moynahan at age 20. Guinan had a brief movie career as a cowgirl in 1918-1919, which is how she got her nickname. The Moynahans moved to Boston, where her husband got a job with the newspaper. They had no children.

Texas Guinan

The former Mary Moynahan, freshly divorced, moved to Manhattan in the early ‘20s to become an actress. But wherever she went, a party broke out, so she was hired as mistress of ceremonies at the Beaux Arts Hotel. There she attracted the attention of Irish bootlegger Larry Fay, who set her up at his new El Fey Club on West 47th St. in 1924.

The liquor flowed illegally, but as long as the bulls were paid off everything was cool. Still, there were frequent busts from the feds. One of Guinan’s signature lines was “Give the little ladies a great big hand” and one night an officer stood up right after and said “Give the little lady a great big handcuff!” As always, the band played “The Prisoner’s Song” when Guinan was taken away for the night.

Ironically, the bold and sassy saloon moll who was the inspiration for Mae West’s routine was a devout Catholic who didn’t drink. Her parents, Michael and the former Bridget Duffy, lived with her at 17 W. 8th St. in Greenwich Village.

Neither Guinan nor Fay (who employed Owney Madden as muscle) would live to see the repeal of Prohibition in December 1933. Fay was shot to death the first day of the year by a liquored-up doorman in a pay  dispute. Texas Guinan died in November 1933 of acute infection of the intestines while on tour with her “Too Hot For Paris Revue” in Vancouver, BC. She was 49.

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GUY CLARK 1941-2016: Songs That Work

Posted by mcorcoran on May 17, 2016

Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark 1977. Austin Opera House photo by Scott Newton.

Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark 1977. Austin Opera House photo by Scott Newton.

by Michael Corcoran, Sept. 2006

If there’s an overall theme to the songwriting of Guy Clark, Nashville’s ambassador to Texas music for more than 35 years, it’s that if you want to explore the poetry of life, go all the way. Duly inspired, a Texas A&M student got in his car one day in the early ’80s and, on a whim, drove eight or nine hours to Monahans, in West Texas, to wait for a train that never came.

That Aggie, Mayor Will Wynn, is such a Guy Clark fan that he wanted to feel like the 6-year-old Clark in “Texas 1947,” which Wynn calls the greatest train song of all time. In the song, the anticipation of a child is validated by a souvenir nickel, smashed flat by “a mad-dog, runaway red-silver streamline train.”

After several hours, Wynn headed back to the dorm, driving all night, his nickel still on the track. His friends said he was crazy, but Wynn just told ’em that he would’ve stayed all night if he’d had a sleeping bag.

“His lyrics speak to me like no other songwriter, author or poet ever has,” Wynn explained of his affinity for Clark, who makes his Austin City Limits Music Festival debut Saturday.

Townes and Guy

Townes and Guy

The deeply honest songs of Guy Clark, including the cosmic cowboy classics, “Desperados Waiting For a Train” and “L.A. Freeway,” both covered by Jerry Jeff Walker, can have that effect on people. He’s not easily accessible – when he’s called “a songwriter’s songwriter” it means he has a voice that will ensure cult status – and his gold records are sung by others (Ricky Skaggs’ version of “Heartbroke” helped kickstart the bluegrass revival in 1982), but Clark’s body of work and continued influence on newer singer-songwriters gives him a face on the Texas singer-songwriter Mount Rushmore.

Although Clark hasn’t lived in Texas since 1970, when he was based in Houston, he’s considered a Texas writer because so much of his material is set in his home state. Plus he’s most often associated with Texans such as Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle, whom he helped get signed to MCA, and, of course, Townes Van Zandt, the Sundance Kid to Clark’s Butch Cassidy (only in this one, Butch got the girl).

“Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt are the front axle and rear axle of the whole Texas singer-songwriter machine,” said Joe Ely, who was also helped by Clark early on. “It’s so weird that they gravitated to Nashville, because they were both really the antithesis of what was going on there.”

Ely said he was worried for Clark after Van Zandt died of a heart attack in 1997 at 52.

“Guy’s whole demeanor went into a slump for two years,” Ely said.

Concern intensified early this year when Clark, 64, played a few concerts looking worn and aged, his hair gone. The CD booklet for “Workbench Songs” – which has been pushed back to an Oct. 17 release – contains photos showing a very different Clark than the “Nick Nolte with a guitar” fans are used to seeing.

Diagnosed with lymphoma early this year, Clark underwent chemotherapy.

“Everything’s fine now,” he said in August from the basement workshop of the Nashville house he shares with fellow songwriter and painter Susanna Clark, his wife of 34 years. He’s rebounded visibly in recent months and the disease is reportedly in remission.

guyclark3His workshop is perhaps the most productive 8-by-12-foot room in Nashville. It’s there, at a worn and sturdy work table that Clark makes guitars as well as plays them. This is also where he writes songs. Every stanza, every line, every word, every letter has to be perfect.

“Guy’s a masterful self-editor,” said songwriter Rodney Crowell, a close friend for more than 30 years. “I’ve seen him throw away lines that other writers would die for, because they didn’t serve the truth of the song.”

Even the best songwriters occasionally toss in a throwaway line to make a rhyme, but it would be difficult to find any pieces of Guy Clark songs that don’t ring true. Every song he’s written is based on his personal experience, or something that happened to a friend.

“He pays incredible attention to detail,” says Hayes Carll, one of many young songwriters who’ve come to Nashville to write with Clark. “He’ll make the most minute changes, but they’ll end up making a huge difference.”

It’s because of this meticulous process, as well as his skill as a woodworker, that Clark is often pegged as a song “craftsman,” usually in the first sentence of a review or profile. It’s a description, although fitting, that he has come to dislike.

“I think of my work as, like, poetry. I’m not building shelves,” he said.

The Clarks moved to Nashville in 1971 because they didn’t like Los Angeles and wanted to make a living as songwriters.

“I wanted to go where the best writers were, the best musicians,” he said.

Through the years, the Clark home has served as “an outpost for wayward Texas songwriters,” he joked. Van Zandt crashed with the Clarks for months at a time; Earle was also quite familiar with the guest room when he was starting out.

“You see, early on I decided that I wanted to be a songwriter, not a Texas songwriter,” Clark said, yet through the years he’s come to be referred to as “the dean of Texas songwriters.” He relishes his role as a mentor.

“I’m always interested in what newer writers are up to,” he said.

In 1983, a friend at a music publishing company gave Clark a demo tape of a new kid from the Houston area named Lyle Lovett.

“I listened to that tape every day for a week,” he said. “It was the best thing I’d heard in years.” He brought it by for MCA President Tony Brown to hear and Brown agreed. “I’ve gotta sign this guy,” Brown said halfway through the demo. And he did.

Lovett returned the favor by calling the tribute album to his early influences “Step Inside This Houguycolorse,” after the first song Clark ever wrote.

As he talked about his comfortable, yet not financially spectacular, career as a songsmith, Clark hand-rolled and chain-smoked cigarettes, seemingly as hooked on the process as the nicotine. Behind him was a wall of cassettes, their plain white covers tidily marked with inscriptions such as “Emmylou at Xmas,” “John Prine 11/4” and “Steve’s birthday.”

The first time he co-wrote with Clark, Carll said, he was mesmerized by all the incredible artists and songs that had been recorded, on the fly, in that little room. “There was one tape of Emmylou Harris singing ‘Fort Worth Blues,’ ” Carll said. “Let that sink in: Emmylou Harris singing a Steve Earle song about Townes Van Zandt to Guy Clark.” Sitting under a portrait of Van Zandt, no less.

Clark doesn’t speak easily about himself. He saves his insights for his songs. But he talks eloquently of Van Zandt, whose sets at Houston’s Jester Lounge in the late ’60s encouraged Clark to write deeper songs.

“We respected each other’s music immensely, but that’s not why me and Townes were such good friends,” Clark said. “He was smart – real smart – and really, really funny. Just a great guy to hang out with.”

Ely described the Guy-Townes relationship this way: “Townes came over for breakfast one day and it lasted 20 years.” Clark rarely does covers, but he records one Townes song on every album.

The biggest difference between the two, who could outdrink an Australian metal band, was spelled out by Crowell: “Townes wouldn’t share his genius. He was competitive with other writers, but Guy is incredibly generous. He showed me how the process worked. No one helped me more than Guy.”

Van Zandt was a notoriously private writer. He’d draw the blinds on a cheap motel and emerge three days later in a vodka haze with a masterpiece he couldn’t wait to play for Clark. But Clark likes to show his work in progress and has really taken to the role as collaborator. On his near-perfect 1975 debut “Old No. 1,” Clark wrote all the songs himself. On “Workbench Songs,” every cut is a collaboration.

“When you’re co-writing and you have an idea, you have to say it out loud, so you know right away if it’s a dumb one,” he said, with a laugh.

Although he started playing guitar at Aransas County High School in South Texas and came of age during Beatlemania, Clark has never been in a band. He didn’t want to rock with a Rickenbacker; he wanted to write songs that make people say, “I know exactly how that feels.”

He was drawn to a life playing music at an office party hosted by his father, a lawyer in Rockport, near Corpus Christi. A new associate at the firm, Lola Bonner, played a traditional Spanish song on the guitar, then passed it to someone who played another song, and a young Clark was fascinated.

“I thought, ‘This is won-der-ful,’ ” he said, his eyes wide open. Bonner taught Clark his first few songs, which he sang in Spanish.

When he started writing his own songs, Clark leaned on his memories of hanging out at his grandmother’s hotel in Monahans as a boy. The washed-up wildcatter of “Desperados Waiting For a Train” was based on Clark’s adventures with Jack Prigg, who lived at the hotel and filled the boy’s head with stories and life lessons.

“He wanted to have a home and a family, so he took me under his wing,” Clark said. “He was like a grandfather to me.”

Prigg was also the inspiration for “Let Him Roll,” a song about a man who falls in love with a prostitute, then goes on to destroy his life with wine when she chooses to stay in the street life.

“Guy will write lines that just rip your head off,” said Ely, who occasionally tours with Lovett, Clark and John Hiatt in a “guitar pull” format. “We always sit alphabetically, so I follow Guy, which is not always an easy thing. He’ll be singing ‘He always said that heaven/Was just a Dallas whore’ (at the end of ‘Let Him Roll’) and I’d have tears in my eyes, then it’s my turn to sing.” Ely laughed. “I’d look over at Guy and think, ‘Man, you got me again.’ ”

 

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Charles Stagg house (abandoned) Vidor, TX

Posted by mcorcoran on May 1, 2016

 

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More on Charlie Stagg.

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Blues In the Night: Ricky Broussard

Posted by mcorcoran on April 17, 2016

by Michael Corcoran, AAS 2004

His eyes were darting, terrified, like an animal not yet used to a new cage. Ricky Broussard looked spooked as he waited to take the stage at the Hole In the Wall — a territory he once utterly owned — on June 7, 2002. He stiffly nodded and smiled at well-wishers. When he stepped up, strapped on his guitar and plugged it into his amp, it was with the gleeful anticipation of a dicey medical procedure. He looked around the club and saw the guy he used to buy cocaine from, the folks he used to drink with until the sun came up and more than a couple of fellas he’d battled in drunken bouts. Broussard took a deep breath and then got ready to play stone-cold sober for the first time in more than two decades.

“We used to fuss, we used to fight,” he sang, separating the lines with four curt guitar notes, then repeated the words as the crowd erupted. “We used to hoot and holler late into the night and let the shotgun blast/We’re plumb out of our minds/we’re twohootsblackcatgoing nowhere fast.”

Halfway through that first song, Broussard settled down and his band, Two Hoots and a Holler, played one of its best sets since its Black Cat Lounge heyday in the late ’80s/early ’90s. And when the crowd screamed and stomped for one more encore, Broussard and a friend from his support group back in Seguin were already in the car. The Austin music scene’s notorious symbol of unrealized potential, who never let something trifling like morning light break up a party, was heading home before last call.

“I’d played the Hole hundreds, maybe even thousands of times,” Broussard recalls of that gig, “but that was the first time I ever really felt the love from the people. It was like, everybody in the place was in my corner.”

It was really always like that, but Broussard had previously been too messed up, too insecure, too defensive to notice. The local music community fell in love with the ragin’ Cajun since he started coming here from Seguin as guitarist in the Surfin’ Cajuns in the early ’80s. Fronting his next band, Two Hoots and a Holler, Broussard dripped with star power. Such catchy, faintly exotic rock songs as “Blues in the Night,” “Step Fast” and “Middle of the Night” defined Monday nights at the Black Cat, where the crowds lined up hours before showtime and didn’t let up all night.

Local musicians, meanwhile, were awed by Broussard’s instinctive grace on the guitar; his single-string runs were songs within the songs. “When you looked into the crowd at those early Two Hoots shows, you’d see a couple dozen guitar players,” says musician Jesse Dayton. “A bunch of us would follow them from gig to gig because Ricky was doing something different than all the other roots or rockabilly bands in town. He wasn’t mimicking his idols; he had his own hybrid that was like Joe Strummer and Bobby Fuller rolled into one guy that you absolutely couldn’t take your eyes off.”

Managers, label owners, club bookers, other musicians were always there to slip a business card or scribbled phone number into Ricky’s hands. But for every person out to help Ricky’s career, there were 50 who just wanted to hang out with him after a gig. Fans passed packets of cocaine and methamphetamine to him through their handshakes, young women yanked him into spare bedrooms, bartenders looked the other way as Broussard loaded cases of beer into the van after a show.

“I got swept up in it, big time,” Broussard says. “The first time I saw people in the audience mouthing the lyrics to songs I wrote, that just blew me away. I was connecting, man, for the first time. It felt so good that I didn’t want the party to stop.”

He was the chosen one, blessed with so much talent, so much intensity. Everyone wanted a piece of Ricky Broussard before he got famous and moved away.

The singer/guitarist, meanwhile, was paralyzed with self-doubt and attendant substance abuse. “I kept wondering, ‘Am I the real deal or have I been able to fool everybody?’ ” He self-medicated with heroin, whiskey, crack cocaine, really anything he could get his hands on. In true self-destructive form, Broussard’s rage was often leveled at fawning supporters. One night, members of a University of Texas fraternity approached him to play a party for several thousands of dollars, and Broussard hurled obscenities at them and had to be restrained from fighting the whole group of them.

“I had 100 forms of fear running through my mind,” Broussard says. “I started questioning the motives of everyone who was close to me. When (bandmates) Vic and Chris would come to me and say, ‘We’re worried about you,’ I’d think, ‘Yeah, they’re worried about their gravy train going dry.’ I pushed everybody away.”

During the second South by Southwest Music Festival in March 1988, Two Hoots attracted the attention of Oakland-based Hightone Records, which had money to put into new bands after releasing a couple million-sellers by Robert Cray. “The label owner, Larry Sloven, came up to us after the set and said he really wanted to take us to lunch the next day,” Two Hoots bassist Vic Gerard recalls. “I picked a spot that was a couple blocks from one of Rick’s haunts, but he never showed up. Me and Sloven sat there for two hours and then he got up and said, ‘Well, if he can’t even meet me for lunch . . .’ ”

Even his favorite club owners struggled with the singer’s erratic behavior. In 1992, Broussard quit the Black Cat, a gig that was paying the group as much as $2,000 every Monday, after owner Paul Sessums made a crack about the singer’s masculinity when Broussard bowed out early one set after hurting his leg on one of his trademark leaps.

“One night they had a sold-out crowd at the Continental Club and Ricky played about four songs and then handed me his guitar,” says Dayton. ” ‘Here, finish for me, man. I gotta score,’ ” Broussard told Dayton, then disappeared out the back door. Broussard’s association with the Continental Club ended in 1993 when he got in a drunken fight with a popular local singer he had been seeing. The angry words turned to blows and things really got ugly. “I just snapped,” Broussard recalls.

The next afternoon, Broussard woke up with the worst kind of hangover, the kind when you piece together the events of the night before and go: “Oh, my God. Did I really do that?” Gerard called the singer at home on, appropriately, Jinx Street, with a solemn tone. Broussard was banned from the Continental, disowned by a family of club employees that he’d been very close to.

“I couldn’t face what I had done to (the singer),” Broussard says. He went right to the liquor store and, for the next few months, was drinking booze every waking moment. His wife, who’d put up with so much in three years of marriage and about seven years of being together before that, finally left him. Then, Gerard joined the Derailers and drummer Chris Staples got a job with Whole Foods. Two Hoots and a Holler, once Austin’s most promising band had hung it up after just one album, 1990’s “No Man’s Land” on France’s New Rose label, only to play occasional reunion gigs at friends’ weddings.

Addicted to heroin, going through withdrawals when he was sent to jail twice for DWI arrests, Broussard hit rock bottom. In 1996, the SIMS Foundation musicians assistance program stepped in and offered to send Broussard through rehab. He took them up on it but was back on the hard stuff a few weeks after his discharge. A second rehab stint a couple years later also failed to take hold, though Broussard says he was starting to learn the tools of recovery, of coping with his guilt.

“A lot of people knew the maverick, wild-eyed showman,” says Gerard, “because Rick did his best to mask the super-sensitive side. He feels things very deeply.”

The ninth of 10 children of a civil service worker at a San Antonio Air Force base, Broussard grew up idolizing his older brothers, two of whom were the only white members of soul band C.L. and the Teardrops. When drummer brother David, a Vietnam vet, died of a heroin overdose in 1979, it hit Ricky hard.

A year earlier he had a musical epiphany when he saw the Sex Pistols at Randy’s Rodeo in San Antonio. “There was a real division between the metalheads and the punks and the local rock stations had been badmouthing the Pistols,” Broussard says. “That’s when I said ‘I’m there.’ ” Galvanized by the Pistols’ swagger in the face of their musical primitiveness, Broussard dropped out of school in the ninth grade and put together the trailer park anarchist punk band 60 Inch Bazookas. But his guitar playing, heavily influenced by Duane Eddy instrumentals, was taking him in a different direction.

“I saw Gene Vincent and Sid Vicious as connected,” Broussard says. “The rage of rockabilly and punk came from the same place.” Vincent and Vicious were also linked through heavy use of drugs and alcohol. Broussard could identify with the demons and struggled with the idea that the only way to get sober was to hang up the Fender Telecaster.

In early 2002, facing a third DWI conviction, Broussard entered rehab in Fredericksburg and says he’s been clean and sober ever since. He’s back with Two Hoots and a Holler, who’ve just released a CD of covers called “Songs Our Vinyl Taught Us” on Freedom Records.

“That was a fun album to bash out,” Broussard says. “It was a way to get reacclimated to the studio and to have something to sell at the shows, but I’m really excited about the next studio album.”

Broussard, Gerard and Staples are currently mixing the album, with Jesse Dayton producing. “Rick Broussard’s Two Hoots and a Holler,” which mixes newly recorded old songs such as “Katy Ann” and Broussard’s amazing claiming of “Sukiyaki” with new material, will hit stores in January.

Austin Music Journal 2013

Austin Music Journal 2013

“Ricky’s really the same guy, with the same intensity,” says Dayton, adding that Broussard was the last guy he thought would get sober. “When he plays, there’s still a lot of anger there, but he’s figured out how to bottle it in more productive ways.” Dayton says Broussard’s new material, including the brand new “I Cried the Day Doug Sahm Died,” is as good as anything he’s ever written. “One thing that hasn’t changed is Rick’s commitment to not do a boring show,” Gerard says. “He still hates a crowd that just sits there politely.”

When you get sober, the days get longer. And with all this new time, Broussard not only plays with Two Hoots, but he does solo acoustic shows and performs occasionally with the Mersey Lords, a Beatlesque cover band that includes Fastball’s Tony Scalzo and songwriter Kevin Brown.

It was a spectacular Two Hoots set at SXSW 2003, in a tent in back of Opal Divine’s, that convinced Broussard to quit his construction job in Seguin and concentrate on making a living playing music. “Man, we were firing on all cylinders that night,” he says. “It was just like the old days, only I wasn’t sticking a needle in my arm afterward.”

The SXSW set, just a few days after the death of his idol Joe Strummer, concluded with Two Hoots covering the Clash’s “Career Opportunities,” a song of bleak prospects. At the end of the number, Broussard swung his guitar over his head and pounded the stage with it until it smashed into bits. Many in the crowd, longtime Broussard watchers, no doubt thought the violent burst signaled a return to past ways. Dayton, who stood near the side of the stage laughs when asked if the destruction was part of the show.

“That was just some Telecaster copy piece of crap guitar,” Dayton says. “That was just Ricky’s way of saying goodbye to Joe Strummer.” Dayton pauses, as an out-of-control Broussard reel seems to run through his head for a few seconds. “Now there was a time when, if Ricky smashed a guitar, you could be sure it was his most precious, cherished, best-sounding one.”

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A phone call for Mr. Amos Milburn

Posted by mcorcoran on March 23, 2016

It sometimes takes just one person to make the rest of us look bad.

Lola Anne Cullum was the African American talent scout in Houston who discovered both Amos Milburn and Lightnin’ Hopkins and signed them to a deal with Aladdin Records in Los Angeles. Milburn was the fantastic piano player and singer who profoundly influenced Fats Domino, right to the scrunched-down singing posture. Hopkins had a piano player named Wilson “Thunder” Smith and so Cullum dubbed him “Lightnin’.” Mrs. Cullum, married to a prosperous Third Ward dentist, was a major figure in Texas music from ’46 until about ’50 when competing with Don Robey soured her on the business. She died in 1970.

Amos_Milburn_Headshot.34980335

This front page story of the Houston Informer black newspaper dated June 19, 1948, is just another sad example of the treatment of blacks in the south during Jim Crow segregation. Cullum was trying to call a venue owner about an upcoming booking for Milburn, who was red-hot at the time with “Down the Road Apiece,” “Chicken Shack Boogie” and “Bewildered.”

We’ll let the newspaper article, sent to me by the great Texas music researcher Andrew Brown, tell the rest of the story:

 

CALLS PARTY “MR.,” OPERATOR STOPS LINE

Negroes Are Not Called Mr. – Says Phone Operator

Houston – A complaint that an operator for long distance service in Houston refused to complete a call and ordered her to release the line was made to the Southwestern Bell telephone company, June 14, by Mrs. Lola Ann Cullum, prominent wife of a local doctor.

Mrs. Cullum reported that when she asked the operator to contact her party she called him “Mr.,” and the person answering at the other end informed the operator here that he would have to go next door to get her party for her.

During the pause, while the person went in search of the party Mrs. Cullum had requested, and had addressed by the title of respect, “Mr.,” the operator here asked Mrs. Cullum if the party she wanted was a colored person.

Unaware of the operator’s motive for the question, Mrs. Cullum answered yes, and said she was shocked when the operator told her:

No Negro Is “Mr.”

“Why, you don’t call no colored people Mr. over long distance telephone. No Negroes are a Mr. over the telephone,” and after an exchange of words, ordered Mrs. Cullum to release the line.

Mrs. Cullum insisted on talking to the party who answered, and the long distance operator insisted on Mrs. Cullum releasing the line, stating she could not complete the call, Mrs. Cullum said.

Mrs. Cullum is the wife of Dr. S.J. Cullum, prominent dentist in the city. She and her husband live in their residence at 3238 Alabama [in the Third Ward], and Mrs. Cullum is a booking agent and manager of the popular recording artist Amos Milburn who is currently playing Texas towns.

She is licensed under James Petrillo, national music head (i.e., president of the National Federation of Musicians), and books under Silbia (illegible) Agency out of Hollywood, Calif.

It was an engagement for Mr. Milburn, who played West Columbia (Texas) Sunday night, that Mrs. Cullum placed the long distance call to a Mr. Patterson in West Columbia, about 3:15 p.m. Monday. (sic) The engagement was to be made for Houston this week.  Due to the hour or more delay after the operator refused to complete the call, Mrs. Cullum was not able to contact her party when the call was finally completed a few minutes after 4 p.m., she said. As a consequence, she had to substitute for the West Columbia engagement, she said.

Heads Investigate

Lola Anne Cullum in 1940

Lola Anne Cullum in 1940

Mrs. Cullum’s complaint was investigated by several supervisors at the telephone company, and each of them called her and talked to her about the incident, she said. One of the supervisors, apparently the one under whom the operator works, told Mrs. Cullum she understood after questioning the operator that Mrs. Cullum had ‘cancelled’ the call, Mrs. Cullum said.

Mrs. Cullum said she thinks that the supervisor understands, now, that because of the nature of the business with the party in West Columbia whom she tried to contact by long distance, “there simply would be no point in my canceling it.”

District Manager Scruggs, who investigated the complaint Tuesday, told an Informer reporter who contacted him by telephone that Mrs. Cullum had made the complaint that the reporter repeated to him.

Although a regrettable and unfortunate incident, Mr. Scruggs said he thinks the company, through the chief operator in that department, has assured Mrs. Cullum that the operator had certainly violated the policies of the company.

He pointed out that such incidents are widely isolated and happen hardly one time in a thousand. He regrets that the operator’s action has resulted in publicity which can probably lead to resentment.

 

 

 

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Maud Cuney-Hare, a former Austinite you need to know about

Posted by mcorcoran on March 21, 2016

by Michael Corcoran

In the spring of 1897, renowned Austin pianist Edmund Ludwig (originally of Heidelberg, Germany), arranged a dual recital at the Millett Opera House on Ninth Street with pianist Maud Cuney, the head of the music department for the Texas Institute of Dmaud_cuney_hare_webeaf, Dumb, Blind Colored Youth. But when Cuney discovered that opera house management required blacks to sit in the balcony, separated from whites, she urged Ludwig to cancel the contract and he did. With no venue available, the concert was held at the black blind school on Bull Creek Road. In attendance was an 8-year-old student named Arizona Dranes, who would go on to pioneer “the gospel beat,” with piano-driven recordings on OKeh Records in 1926.

Maud Cuney-Hare, her married name, left the Austin school after just two years and went on to an illustrious career herself, as a musician, folklorist and writer. Of light skin and European features (both her parents had white fathers and mulatto slave mothers), Maud could’ve passed as white, but didn’t, as her father taught her her to be proud of her ancestry. Cuney-Hare was briefly engaged to author and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, whom she met when she was a student at the New England Conservatory fighting eviction from the dorm when it was discovered she had African blood. Du Bois was at Harvard and a member of the black students group that came to her defense. She stayed in the dorm. Though the romantic relationship didn’t last, they remained friends and Cuney-Hare wrote an arts and music column for the NAACP publication, The Crisis, that Du Bois edited.

As a musicologist, Cuney was one of the first to explore the African roots of American music, and published the first book of Creole songs in 1921. Her landmark 1936 book Negro Musicians and Their Music was, sadly, released months after she died of cancer at age 61. She lived most of her adult life in Boston, aside from her two years in Austin music teaching at the blind school and a short stint at the present Prairie View A&M.

Cuney-Hare 1910

Cuney-Hare 1910

She was also married, from 1902- 1906, to a doctor 20 years her senior, and the couple went to live in Chicago. The doctor insisted that they try to pass as Spanish American, and she maybe went along with it at first, but that’s not how she was raised. Her red blood ran dark.

Her grandfather Phillip Cuney was a white slave-owner who had a bunch of farmland outside Hempstead, TX that he called “Sunnyside Plantation.” In order to make slavery seem acceptable, some owners developed an ideology that they were providers to a people who couldn’t make it on their own. Cuney had eight children with his slave Adeline Stuart, and raised them as his own. He freed Maud’s father Norris Wright Cuney at age 13 and sent him to school in Pittsburgh. When Norris returned to Texas after the Civil War, he settled in Galveston where he organized black longshoremen into a union and was elected alderman. Eventually, he would be elected chairman of the Republican Party in Texas. His politican fight against the “Lily White Republicans” (they called themselves that) is chronicled by Maud Cuney-Hare in Norris Wright Cuney: A Tribune of the Black People, a biography she wrote in 1913. The information on Cuney-Hare’s time in Austin 1897-99 comes from that book.

Here’s an entry on Cuney-Hare in the Encyclopedia of the Harlem Rensaissance.

And through the beauty of this free and instant digital age, the very rare and out-of-print Negro Musicians and Their Music can be found here in its entirety.

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Henry Lebermann: Secret History of Austin Music #1

Posted by mcorcoran on March 21, 2016

When Henry Lebermann was 6 years old in 1879, his mother, Alice Marie, born and raised in the French Quarter of New Orleans, took him from their home in Galveston to visit her parents’ native Paris. What a glorious time it must have been in young Henry’s life, meeting relatives he didn’t know he had and discovering that there was so much more to the world than Texas.

Secret History of Austin Music: Henry Lebermann photoIn 1929, the family — from left, Lowell, Virginia, daughter Virginia, Henry and Jeanne — moved to 3110 Walling Drive, in the same North Campus neighborhood where John A. Lomax lived.

The next year, the boy was stricken with spinal meningitis, which left him completely blind. Without the ability to read music as he played, it seemed impossible that Henry would equal the musical accomplishments of his father, noted Galveston composer and music professor Heinrich August Lebermann. But Henry Lebermann, the grandfather of late Austin City Council veteran Lowell H. Lebermann Jr., in many ways surpassed the high standard set by his father.

As a music teacher and orchestra leader at the Texas School for the Blind from 1901 to 1938, Henry Lebermann had a positive influence on such students as Fred Lowery, “the King of the Whistlers” of the Big Band era; legendary sheriff Pat Garrett’s daughter Elizabeth Garrett, who would go on to write the state song of New Mexico; and country songwriter Leon Payne, who wrote “Lost Highway” for Hank Williams, among other classics.

But perhaps Lebermann’s most wide-reaching musical contribution was when he, assisted by his sighted wife, Virginia, transcribed scratchy field recordings for John A. Lomax, setting such standards as “Home on the Range,” “Git Along Lil Dogies” and “The Old Chisholm Trail” into sheet music for the first time. Those songs and 25 others transcribed by the couple were collected for posterity in the landmark 1910 Lomax songbook “Cowboys Songs and Other Frontier Ballads.”

Secret History of Austin Music: Henry Lebermann photoVirginia Leberman with daughters Virginia, left, and Jeanne outside the family home.

The longtime organist for the Central Christian Church at 12th and Guadalupe streets, Lebermann was a well-known Austin figure who was often seen walking to and from his home on East 23rd Street and the Texas School for the Blind at 45th Street and North Lamar Boulevard, more than three miles away. He’d meet his co-worker R.M. Perrenot at 30th and Guadalupe streets each morning, and the blind friends would walk together the rest of the way.

“Lowell Jr. was only about 2 when his grandfather Henry died and so had no clear personal memories of him,” said Lois Pattie, who was Lowell H. Lebermann Jr.’s personal assistant from 1982 until about five years ago. “But he always spoke of him with pride, particularly in relation to his having played the organ at the Paramount Theatre during the Depression.” Lowell H. Lebermann Jr., who passed away in July 2009, was instrumental in the efforts to restore the Paramount in the 1970s.

Before he was a teacher at the Texas School for the Blind, Henry Lebermann was a student there, enrolled in 1883 at age 10 and graduating in 1894. At that time, the school was located at the University of Texas “Little Campus” in what is now known as the Arno Nowotny Building next to the Erwin Center. The current location was built in 1917 on 73 donated acres.

During his time as a student, Lebermann benefited from the leadership of Superintendent Frank Rainey, who emphasized musical training as a way for the blind to make a living and appealed to the board to spend money on instruments.

Rainey also encouraged innovative instructional methods and was overjoyed when one of his young teachers, Elizabeth Sthreshley, invented a Braille typewriter called the punctograph in 1890. Four years later, she married noted Congress Avenue photographer George Townsend and would assist him in his work with new X-ray technology.

Disaster in Galveston

After graduation, Lebermann moved back to Galveston and then to nearby Alvin to become a farmer. Besides music, Lebermann had a lifelong passion for growing and tended a vibrantly colorful garden until his death from congestive heart failure at age 68 in 1941.

In 1900, a hurricane destroyed Galveston, killing Lebermann’s father and brother Lee. According to a 1937 Austin Statesman article, Henry Lebermann and another blind farmer spent seven days with water up to their waists, with no food, abandoned by their terrified hired hand.

With a heart heavy with grief, Lebermann went back to the place in Austin that had been his home, his musical training ground, for 11 years. But this time, he would be an educator and leader. Kristi Sprinkle, a historian of the school, found records that Lebermann gave a classical music recital at the school in January 1901 and lectured on the life and work of Chopin in March of that year.

The school orchestra he led was one of the finest in Austin and was hired in 1904 to play a concert at Central Christian Church welcoming new students to UT. There, a 33-year-old Lebermann met an 18-year-old church member named Virginia Carrington, whose father, Leonidas, owned the prosperous L.D. Carrington and Co. retail business on Congress Avenue.

Henry with Lowell, Sr.

Henry with Lowell, Sr.

After a year’s courtship, Henry and Virginia were married. Son Lowell was born in 1906, with daughters Virginia and Jeanne soon following. As the family grew, the Lebermanns moved out of a house at 902 Manor Road and into a bigger place at 906 E. 23rd St., where they lived for almost 20 years. Both houses were torn down when the university expanded east.

In 1929, the family moved to 3110 Walling Drive, in the same North Campus neighborhood where the Lomax family lived.

The subject of a 1994 master’s thesis by Baylor student Kelly Stott entitled “The Emerging Woman,” Virginia Leberman (1886-1968), who went with a one “n” spelling, was shown to be a progressive thinker and painter who spent summers at the Taos, N.M., artist community as early as the 1930s. She also co-owned the successful Christianson-Leberman Photography business at a time when female entrepreneurship was rare. Among the subjects she photographed were Eleanor Roosevelt and Will Rogers.

“We are perhaps more properly balanced than most married people,” Virginia Leberman told The Dallas Morning News in a 1925 profile of her husband with the headline “Blind Genius at State Capital.” “Each approves so entirely of the actions of the other that there is no friction in our home.”

Encouraged to follow her artistic and philosophical pursuits, Virginia Leberman was new age before the term was invented.

“This social grande dame was quite bohemian to her core,” Stott observed of Virginia’s fascination with the Pueblo Indians and their customs and beliefs.

When he accepted UT’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2000, Lowell Lebermann Jr., who was blinded after a shooting accident at age 12, credited his grandmother with expanding his cultural curiosity. “I’d go by the studio behind her house, and she’d be beating a tom-tom, breathing deeply and chanting,” he said. “How many grandmothers that you know do that sort of thing?”

In correspondence with Stott, Virginia Leberman’s friend Lady Bird Johnson recalled the night of a full moon in New Mexico, when Virginia asked their driver to pull over so they could get out and take in the view. “It was a high moment filled with respect for our surroundings and an experience that was a typical part of Virginia Leberman’s personality.”

Although it was prevalent in that era of raging anti-German sentiments during World War I to alter a name to sound less German, it’s not known if Virginia dropped the second “n” for her children’s surname as well for that reason. But Henry Lebermann kept the original spelling, perhaps in homage to his beloved father, as well as his first teacher at the School for the Blind, Edmund Ludwig of Heidelberg. Though his father, prominent Commerce doctor Lowell Sr., used just one “n,” Lowell Lebermann Jr. reverted to the original two “n” spelling after college and was “Lebermann” in 1971 when first elected to three consecutive terms on the City Council.

Successful students

In returning to the School for the Blind, Henry Lebermann may have hoped to have the same impact on his charges as Ludwig had on him. One such student was Fred Lowery, a native of Palestine in East Texas who was blinded at age 2 by scarlet fever. Lowery came to the school in 1917 at age 7 and took to the musical training with dreams of becoming a concert violinist.

In his autobiography, “Whistling In the Dark,” Lowery recalls a “long, fatherly talk” he had with Lebermann about the steep odds facing a blind classical musician. “Here at the Blind School we can make music together because we use a system designed for the sightless,” Lowery quotes Lebermann (blind musicians received their cues from the tapping of the leader’s baton). “Sighted musicians are trained in a different system. They play by sight, reading the score, watching the conductor. Their system and our system won’t mix.”

Although the reality check discouraged him, Lowery credited Lebermann with sending him on the path of being a big-band whistler. Having noticed Lowery whistling around school, Lebermann asked him to stay after band rehearsal one day. “I think we could use your whistle in the orchestra,” Lebermann said, astounding Lowery, who had never heard of such instrumentation. But Lebermann said he heard tones that suggested Lowery could mimic the sound of a piccolo, which the orchestra didn’t have. Lebermann craved a piccolo sound on the John Philip Sousa marches that were crowd favorites.

Lowery went on to a great career as a whistler, making his name in the 1930s with the Vincent Lopez Orchestra, whose arranger was a trombone player named Glenn Miller. Perhaps best known for whistling the theme to “Lassie” and his TV duets with Bing Crosby, Lowery was a virtuoso who perfected the double-note whistle and performed such complex material as “The William Tell Overture.” (Hear samples of Lowery’s whistling with this story at austin360.com/music.)

Entering the School for the Blind in 1923 was Leon Payne from the Northeast Texas town of Alba. Under the tutelage of Lebermann and other teachers, Payne (1917-1969) became proficient in guitar, keyboards, trombone and drums and joined Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys just three years after graduating.

As a solo artist, Payne had a No. 1 country hit in 1949 with “I Love You Because,” written for his wife, Myrtie, a former classmate at the School for the Blind he reconnected with and married in 1948. Payne is best known today as a songwriter, penning big hits for Hank Williams (“They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me”), Jim Reeves (“Blue Side of Lonesome”), Carl Smith (“You Are the One”) and many more. Elvis Presley recorded “I Love You Because” at one of his first sessions with Sun Records.

As a teacher, your students’ success becomes your own, in a way. But as a musician and scholar, Lebermann left his own legacy. Among his compositions were “Spring Song” and “The Blue Bonnet Song,” but his invaluable preservation work with John A. Lomax deserves special citation in this 100th anniversary year of “Cowboy Songs.”

Lomax first heard “Home on the Range” in 1908 from a black saloonkeeper in San Antonio who had been a camp cook on the Chisholm Trail for years. Lomax lugged an old Edison wax cylinder recording machine to record the barkeep. Lomax took the a capella recording to Lebermann, who, according to Lomax’s notes, “used earphones and played the record over and over again until he felt he had captured the music as the Negro saloon keeper had rendered it.” As Lebermann listened and played the piano, Virginia Leberman wrote the notes on sheet music.

“The original cylindrical record of the song has crumbled into dust, but the music that Henry Lebermann set down from the record I made still survives,” Lomax wrote.

According to Stott’s thesis, Virginia Leberman used to say that “a great mind is always humble and curious.” It was an adage lived out by her and her husband and passed on to their children and grandchildren.

Henry Lebermann was blind, but not before he saw Paris. In darkness he created his own “City of Light” in a town he loved. As a conductor of music and life he led in the most meaningful way — by example.

 

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Overheard at SXSW 1989

Posted by mcorcoran on March 8, 2016

sxsw89

 

1. “The registration line was insane. That’s 20 minutes of my life I won’t get back.”

2. “Do you know where Saturday’s day party is?”

3. “Austin learned its lesson from the Armadillo. No way they’re tearing down Liberty Lunch for an office building.”

4. “I’m in such a hurry I’m gonna have to grab lunch from a food trailer. Where’s the nearest construction site?”

5. “We can either see Mojo Nixon tonight for free or pay $30 to see him next year at the Erwin Center.”

6. “Let’s just take a cab to Salt Lick. How much could it be?”

7. “So, besides the Austin Music Awards, what else are you excited about this week?”

8. “They used to be a punk band, but now they play roots music. With punk energy.”

9. “There’s a line at the Gunbunnies. This $10 wristband is such a ripoff!”

10. “I’m not sure, but I think the Spin party is either in room 1703 or 1307.

11. “Holy shit, that’s Peter Zaremba!”

12. “SXSW is a good idea, but they’re going to need to rely on the revenue from the Austin Chronicle to survive.”

13. “One day this thing might be bigger than Aquafest. OK, I’m wasted.”

14. “If you’re cool you call it ‘Southby’.”

15. “I heard they were going to have a hip-hop act this year, but couldn’t find a corporate sponsor.”

16. “They need to get someone hip, with an opinion, to keynote.  Someone like Michelle Shocked.”

17. “OK, we’ve got this cool party space on SoCo. What should we do in the storefront? A gallery for outsider art? Really?”

18. “Let’s share a room at the San Jose. Not to save money, but to take turns standing guard.”

19. “Some guy just handed me a cassette. Hasn’t he heard of CDs?”

20. “It’s so great SXSW happens during Spring Break. No college kids in town!

21. “Having a festival for unsigned acts is cool, but I wish they had bigger names.”

 

 

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80 years ago: Austin’s most important recording?

Posted by mcorcoran on February 1, 2016

soul_stirrers

The Soul Stirrers circa 1947. Rebert Harris is top right.

The Soul Stirrers are best known today as the Chicago gospel group that launched the career of Sam Cooke from 1951 until he crossed over to pop with “You Send Me” in 1957. But the group is actually from Trinity, Texas, by way of Houston. The Stirrers revolutionized gospel quartets by adding a fifth member- a second lead singer- which upped the intensity when the two leads traded verses while keeping the four-part harmony intact. Before the Soul Stirrers, gospel quartets were barbershop or jubilee groups doing old spirituals like “Down By the Riverside.” But the Stirrers came out to “wreck a house” with their hard gospel style and, in the process, influenced every quartet to follow.

Only Lubbock’s Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the model for the Beatles, and T-Bone Walker of Oak Cliff, who invented the language of electric blues guitar, are more influential Texas acts than the Soul Stirrers.

Gospel historians sometimes credit the Golden Gate Quartet as the precursors to the heightened emotionalism of quartets, but the Soul Stirrers actually recorded a year before those Norfolk heavyweights. And they made their recording debut in Austin, with John A. and his son Alan Lomax running the sessions for the Library of Congress. Billed The Five Soul Stirrers of Houston, the group recorded four songs on Feb. 12, 1936: “Lordy Lordy,” “John the Revelator,” “Standing At the Bedside of a Neighbor” and “How Did You Feel When You Came Out of the Wilderness.” These were all songs previously recorded by others, but no one did them with the thrust of the Stirrers, whose performance Alan Lomax called “the most incredible polyrhythmic music you’ve ever heard.”

Those Library of Congress recordings have been preserved in D.C., but never commercially released. But as a representation of what the five singers- E.R. Rundless, W.L. LeBeau, A.L. Johnson, S.R. Crain and O.W. Thomas- were doing onstage 200 nights a year, the recordings track a transformative moment in the evolution of spiritual sound. “No other recordings from that era are anywhere close in style,” wrote gospel historian Ray Funk, who pinpoints a Stirrers innovation as the harmony based around a higher tonal center- with “piercing falsetto” and a lighter bass- than the popular quartets from Birmingham Alabama.

soulstirrersloc

If I was to rank the 25 Most Significant Recordings in Austin History, the Soul Stirrers’ 1936 rendition of Blind Willie Johnson’s “John the Revelator” would rival Willie Nelson’s “Stardust” for the top spot. It’s unknown where the Soul Stirrers sang for the Lomax’s recording machine, but John Wheat of the Briscoe Center for American History says the likely location was the big house at 400 W. 34th Street where John Lomax lived with second wife Ruby Terrill and kept his recording equipment. That’s also the residence,

1935 Austin City directory

1935 Austin City directory

torn down in the early ‘70s, where Leadbelly stayed for a spell after his release from Louisiana’s Angola State Peniteniary in 1934.

A name missing from the 1936 Stirrer credits is Cooke’s mentor R.H. Harris, whom many consider the most influential male gospel singer of all time. There has been conflicting information about when Harris joined the Stirrers, with the singer claiming he was recruited from the glee club of Mary Allen College in Crockett in 1933. But historian Funk puts the year he became a Soul Stirrer at 1937, which is backed up by the session notes in 1936. Before his death in 2000 at age 84, Harris took credit for introducing the falsetto to gospel quartets, but Rundless was already using that high-pitched technique when the Lomaxes got it down on record. Harris has also been credited for introducing the dual (and “duel”) lead vocals to the quartet style, but the Stirrers were already doing that before he joined.

Harris replaced group leader Walter LeBeau, who dropped out of the hard-touring group to become a minister at the New Pleasant Baptist Church in Houston. There’s no question that Harris was an amazing singer, who took the gospel quartet to new soulful heights. And he did teach Sam Cooke how to slur and flip and stretch into a new way of singing. But a piece of gospel history has to be rewritten with this newfound information. The original Five Soul Stirrers of Houston were the originators, but R.H. Harris was Jesus’ favorite singer and he made them better.

Dust jacket of Feb. 12, 1936 recording.

Dust jacket of Feb. 12, 1936 recording.

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Hattie Burleson’s Dead Lover Blues

Posted by mcorcoran on January 15, 2016

A blues singer who recorded a few sides for Brunswick and owned the Green Parrot dancehall, Hattie Burleson was the queen of Deep Ellum in Dallas in the 1920’s. But was she also the Hattie Burleson who shot to death one of Dallas’ most prominent black citizens on Aug. 20, 1919? From here on they will be referred to as Hattie Singer and Hattie Slayress, though they were most likely the same person.

I came about this story yesterday at the Dallas Public Library where I went to do research on my upcoming book on 1920’s black gospel in Texas. The famous and fruitful recording sessions in Dallas in December 1927, conducted by Frank B. Walker of Columbia, drew two tracks, “Doggone My Good Luck Soul” and “Black Hand Blues,” by a singer named Hattie Hudson. There has been talk in musicology ciIMG_1707rcles that the singer sounds a lot like Hattie Burleson, whose protege Lillian Glinn of Hillsboro was also on the session. A pseudonym perhaps? Looking into that, I found clippings about the killing of Dallas Express editor and publisher William Elisha King.

According to the front page story with the banner headline, Burleson was driven to the house at 2818 Flora Street where King was recuperating from a streetcar fall. “The lady of the house” was preparing lunch while King and Burleson talked in the other room. “As their conversation became intensed, the woman drew a .38 calibre pistol from her handbag and shot Mr. King in the chest,” the Dallas Express reported. Hattie Slayress surrendered voluntarily to police. The paper reported that Burleson was King’s former secretary who owned a rooming house at 2516 Swiss Avenue (a block from the Express offices at 2600 Swiss).wekingpasses

Not only the founding publisher of the Southwest’s leading black newspaper, W.E. King was a noted lecturer on the issues of race and politics. Every issue of the Dallas Express contained a photo of “Hon. W.E. King” and an announcement of that week’s speaking itinerary. A son of former slaves from Mississippi, King was a schoolteacher for seven years before moving to Dallas in 1891 to edit the Western Star religious newpaper. The next year he started the Dallas Bee, then soon changed the name to the Dallas Express.

After reading of the shooting death of such a community leader, I figureburleson LPd there must’ve been two black Hattie Burlesons in Dallas because how would Hattie Slayress not be in jail while Hattie Singer was recording four sides for Brunswick in Oct. 1928 (including “Dead Lover Blues” and “Sadie’s Servant Room Blues,” backed by Don Albert on trumpet).

But according to a story in the Oct. 4, 1919 issue of the Dallas Express, Hattie Slayress was cleared of all charges. A girlfriend defending herself while confronting an unfaithful lover? We’ll never know.

If anyone knew, it was Mack McCormick, the famed Houston music historian who passed away in November at age 85. The Dallas Public Library file on W.E. King contains several pieces of correspondence with McCormick, an obsessively thorough researcher who notoriously sat on much of his material. Reprinted below is one letter to Mack, from 1974.

 

macletter

 

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