Local Memory: A History of Music in Austin

Exhibits

Local Memory is an ongoing public history project presenting a cultural geography of music performance in Austin, Texas. Learn more…

Recent Updates

  • Bessie Smith and the Dunbar Theatre Notes from a Limestone Ledge

    Tracing the history of the Dunbar Theatre, one of downtown Austin’s African American movie/vaudeville houses from the interwar period, through Bessie Smith’s only known performance in Austin. Read more…

  • Introduction: The Wild Side of Life Exhibit: The Wild Side of Life

    Music in Austin changed considerably during the 1940s. As the city grew and the war installed bases in its hinterlands, new audiences danced to new styles in new places. This was a Central Texas sea change. University students and orchestras had dominated dances during the previous two decades and live popular music during the Jazz Age-Depression was largely a collegiate affair. By 1950, however, wholly different publics had emerged and placed Western Swing, Rhythm and Blues, and Honky Tonks at the center of the city's music scene. Read more…

  • Western Swing in Austin, Part I: 1940-1950 Exhibit: The Wild Side of Life

    Austin’s first Golden Age for Country music occurred during the 1940s. After years of relative marginalization, Western Swing and “Hillbilly” bands began to appear regularly in a handful of clubs during the early 1940s. By the end of the decade, a dynamic Country scene thrived on and just beyond the city limits. The music remained intensely local during its first decade, although it drew in new bands and musical talent from the small towns in Austin's orbit. After 1950, the scene's network broadened: some of its musicians became successful recording artists while clubs established strong connections to the emerging Country and Western music industry centers in Nashville and Shreveport. Read more…

  • Western Swing in Austin, Part II: Two Predecessors and a Context, 1930-1942 Exhibit: The Wild Side of Life

    Although Country music did not gain a real foothold in Austin until the 1940s, blends of “Hillbilly” and modern pop music were present during the Depression. While under-documented, there were a few local “rural rhythm” bands that likely fit the Western Swing model being developed at the time by Milton Brown and Bob Wills. But there was also a more unusual collegiate variation in town which approached the style from the opposite direction. By the early 1940s, the working class version had not only triumphed, but taken on a decisively political association in the Texas capital. Read more…

  • The New Audiences: Demographics in Austin, 1930-1950 Exhibit: The Wild Side of Life

    Demographic change and World War Two brought new audiences to Austin during the 1940s. Largely made up of non-elite and working class residents, these emerging sets of clientele shifted the character of the city's music. By 1950, their taste in Western Swing, Rhythm and Blues, and Conjunto music had formed alternative music publics to the ones inhabiting collegiate ballrooms and university gyms. Read more…

  • Beyond the City Limits: The New Dance Halls Exhibit: The Wild Side of Life

    Between 1940 and 1950, a host of music halls and bars popped up on the outskirts of Austin. Together, these new venues created a new performance environment for Western Swing bands and working class white audiences. Read more…

  • The Nash Hernandez Orchestra: An Interview With Ruben Hernandez Exhibit: The Wild Side of Life

    The Nash Hernandez Orchestra was one of the key musical institutions in East Austin during the late 1940s and 1950s. Listen below to an interview with Ruben Hernandez, the original bandleader’s son, about his father’s life and the history of the band. Read more…

  • Announcing “The Wild Side of Life: The Rise of the Honky Tonks, 1940-1950” Notes from a Limestone Ledge

    The Wild Side of Life documents the ascent of the Western Swing scene in Austin during and after World War Two. Read more…

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Local Memory: A History of Music in Austin is supported in part by Texas Folklife and a grant from the City of Austin Cultural Arts Division.