A Day at the Texas Music Museum

Nuts and Bolts Music has a huge hard on for the Texas Music Museum.

It all started with a trip Tuesday morning to the Austin branch of the Foundation Center, on E. 11th street, to research grants (you can read all about why Foundation Centers are so awesome in our post about music business and money, “Bills Bills Bills“). Apparently the AFC is located on the second floor of the building that houses the Texas Music Museum, so you can get a history lesson and fund your college education all in the same day!

Charles Urdy Plaza

Charles Urdy Plaza

First I took a morning walk around the neighborhood, which can broadly be described as Charles Urdy Plaza, after the plaza at the corner of East 11th and Waller Streets dedicated to community leader Charles Urdy. The plaza features the 50ft long mural Rhapsody by John Yancey, celebrating the jazz music that once defined the neighborhood with vivid, colorful depictions of black saxophone and trumpet players. As a very poorly placed posterboard on the other side of a chain-link fence a block away from the mural told me, apparently during segregation in the early 20th century, this area of East Austin was home to historic bars like the Victory Grill, Sunrise Tavern, BJ’s Lounge, Charlie’s Playhouse, and played a crucial stop on the Chitlin Circuit. The Chitlin Circuit was a touring pattern in the South that most major African American jazz and blues artists followed. So major players like Etta James, Ike and Tina Turner, B.B. King all made stops here. It also served as the breeding ground and home for local musicians like Blues Boy and the Jets, WC Clark, Johnny Holmes.

Dead Possum Nearby

I will have you know that this sign was right next to a dead, decaying possum. Be thankful I have spared you pictures of said possum (I was considering it).

After desegregation in the 1960s, these clubs had a hard time keeping their doors open to compete with white clubs in west Austin, and the area fell to decline. But since the SXSW-type Austin popularity boom of the early 2000s, this stretch of the east side has recently experienced some heavy gentrification. During my walk I passed by a fancy electronic music equipment store called Switched on Electronics, a swanky Trattoria Bar and Grill, and the construction site of a new boutique shopping mall. Only one old school bar, the Victory Grill, lives on.

Piano of Robert Shaw "The King of Barrel House"

Piano of Robert Shaw “The King of Barrel House”

So moving onto the Texas Music Museum. They’re open Monday through Friday from 9-5, and they are totally free. They’ve been doing their thing since 1986. Their mission statement is thus: “The Texas Music Museum collects and preserves artifacts, docments, and reference material surrounding the diverse traditions of Texas music, and utilizes these collections in the presentations of exhibits, educational programs, and performances.” Not going to lie the black $5 posterboards from staples with glued on print outs of information and pictures felt like something out of my middle school science fair. But holy shit these pictures. And holy shit this information. Every single one of the hundreds of posterboards on display could be a book.

Not only are there the sort of expected music histories — such as German music, ragtime, cowboy/country,and blues — but there are also rare, lesser known aspects of Texas music history represented along the lines of Native American ethnic musics, patriotic songs, and (probably most to my surprise) Czech music. Apparently there is this thing called “the Czech belt,” and in this belt early Czech brass bands and family orchestras, such as the Baca family orchestra, were things that existed.

IMG_0406

Because what else do Czech musicians from late 1800s Texas do, if not stand in back of sacks of cotton?

There are also some cool mechanical historical items on display, like some 7″ singles from Vernon Dalhart, recording company contracts, early music playing and recording devices, paraphernalia from music publishers (like these copper plates from Hauschild), and various pieces of music related art.

IMG_0407

Original copper plates for Hauschild sheet music from 1900.

Back room "Tejano Music - Spotlight on Austin"

Back room “Tejano Music – Spotlight on Austin”

Hands down my favorite exhibit was the Tejano room. Oh. My. God. So many posterboards, each featuring a different artist I had never knew existed before. I learned about Balde Gonzalez, the blind orquestra leader who had the single “What do I care,” and looked at some sweet pictures of Ruben Ramos y la revolucion mexicana. I even got to peek at the accordion of Bruno Villareal, the first tejano accordionist to ever be recorded. All of these intensely important moments and people in a very particular subset of Texas-Mexican history that is lost to most of the rest of the United States, but sort of illustrates this story of immigration — especially the immigration of latino people into the US and the increasing spanish-speaking population, which is a hot button political issue — in the most beautiful of ways. Through hybridities of musical culture.

Accordion of Bruno Villareal, the first tejano accordionist to be recorded.

Accordion of Bruno Villareal, the first tejano accordionist to be recorded.

These are just some of my initial impressions and findings from the museum but I plan on going back and maybe doing some interviews with some of the staff. I’m even considering volunteering, I was so moved by their collection. If you’re in the area, I would recommend making a morning out of a visit. Or hitting up one of their events — sometimes they break out some showings of rare archival footage. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out.

Gratuitous Mexican hot rod picture.

Gratuitous hot rod picture of Rufino Zapata.

All posterboards, old images, and paraphernalia courtesy of the Texas Music Museum.

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