This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll meet a migrant worker who became a king.
On December 1, 1990, Pedro Ayala died in South Texas. Born in 1911 in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, he was eight years old when his family moved to the United States as migrant farm workers. Ayala learned to play the violin and guitar, but it was the accordion that became his true passion. According to Ayala, “Germans build accordions, Italians play them, and Mexicanos play them best.” Pedro Ayala began performing professionally in the 1930s. By the 1940s, he was so popular that he had earned the nickname the “Monarch of the Accordion.”
Pedro Ayala toured with some of the best-known Texas-Mexican performers of his day, including Beto Villa and Isidro Lopez. In 1988, the National Endowment for the Arts named Ayala a National Heritage Fellow, just two years before his death in 1990.
Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll celebrate an opera singer who also had the president’s ear.
This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll meet the oven-baked Big Boy of Austin punk.
Randy “Biscuit” Turner was born November 25, 1945, in Gladewater, Texas. By 1970 he had moved to Austin, where he worked in a variety of occupations, including retail sales, food service, and acting. In 1979, Turner became lead singer for the Big Boys, a pioneering band that helped define the city’s emerging punk scene. The Big Boys combined danceable funk and punk rhythms with outrageous stage performances. In fact, Turner often dressed in a tutu or colorful costumes adorned with Christmas lights.
After the Big Boys broke up in 1984, Randy “Biscuit” Turner remained active in the Austin music scene, fronting a number of different bands. He also worked as a visual artist and an actor in local theater until his death in 2005. He was inducted into the Austin Music Memorial in 2011.
Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll meet a migrant worker who became a king.
This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll visit a club that played a key role in desegregating the Texas music scene.
On November 3, 1944, jazz trumpeter Don Albert opened the Keyhole Club in San Antonio. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and other musical icons played there, along with Texas artists, T-Bone Walker and a young Doug Sahm. The club also showcased such local performers as “Iron Jaws,” a man who lifted tables with his teeth, and Peg Leg Bates, who tap-danced on a wooden leg. The Keyhole Club drew criticism from some, because it welcomed a mixed-race audience of Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics who came to hear blues, R&B, and jazz.
City officials tried to shut down the Keyhole Club, because it violated local segregationist laws. However, Don Albert took his case to the Texas Supreme Court and won. The Keyhole Club continued to feature artists and audiences from all ethnic and racial backgrounds, thereby helping integrate the Texas music scene and setting the stage for the emergence of such innovative and eclectic bands as the Texas Tornados.
Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll celebrate a country dance hall that helped change rock and roll history.
This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll meet a man who whistled while he worked.
Fred Lowery was born on November 2, 1909, in Palestine, Texas. Lowery lost his eyesight at age two. So, his parents enrolled him at the Texas School for the Blind in Austin, where his piano teacher helped him develop a talent for whistling. In 1929, Lowery began performing on Texas radio shows. In 1934, he moved to New York City and joined Vincent Lopez’s orchestra, eventually earning the nickname, the “King of the Whistlers.”
During his career, Fred Lowery performed and recorded with such stars as Steve Allen, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope. Lowery also whistled his way to the White House and Carnegie Hall before dying in Jacksonville, Texas, in 1984.
Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll visit a club that was key to integrating San Antonio.
This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll celebrate a pioneering woman in country music.
Helen Hall was born on October 20, 1927, in Navarro County, Texas. She began playing guitar and fronting a band with her husband, a bass player, shortly after the two married in 1944. In 1954, Hall and her band began performing regularly on the Big D Jamboree, where she appeared on the bill with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and other now-legendary artists. Helen Hall was one of the few women to perform regularly on the show. She also was one of the few singers to write many of her own songs, some of which addressed the challenges women faced in the world of honky-tonk music.
Helen Hall retired from the stage as the Big D Jamboree wound down in the 1960s. However, she was an inspiration to a number of other female country artists, many of whom have performed and recorded her songs.
Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll meet a man who whistled while he worked.