Visualizing the Economics of Music Performance in Austin in the 1930s

Brian JonesAugust 21, 2019

Today we’re publishing a new data visualization to our “Athens on the Colorado” exhibit that highlights the economic consequences of racial discrimination for musicians in Austin in the 1930s.

Despite the growing influence of black musicians in mainstream, white musical culture across the country, segregation and discriminatory booking policies prevented them from capturing more than a small share of the economic opportunities of the Swing boom. In Austin, there were also Swing bands comprised of Latino members who were similarly shut out.

Even when they were hired, orchestras with non-white performers tended to earn lower fees than white bands. Consider two regional touring bands who played UT All University Dances in the period: one led by the African American bandleader Don Albert and the other led by the white bandleader Jimmy Joy. Don Albert’s group earned $125, the lower limit of the scale for touring bands, while Jimmy Joy’s Orchestra earned almost twice that.

The charts in “Visualizing the Economics of Music in Austin: 1930-1939” were compiled from performance data for white, black, and Latino bands at four prominent venues. Collectively they show the strong hiring preference for white bands at the venues that hosted the highest-profile and highest-paid performances in the city during the period.

This will be the last piece of new material added to this exhibit for the time-being, but Local Memory is an ongoing project with a second exhibit exploring another era of music in Austin already under way.