For Black History Month we’re turning the spotlight on several prominent black musicians both past and present whose contributions helped put Austin music on the map. KUT reporter DaLyah Jones produced these profiles for KUTX with help from Clay Shorkey of The Texas Music Museum.
When paying homage to many of the black musicians from the Capitol City, it’s often forgotten that there were legends who provided a platform in a segregated music market. Rev. Albert Lavada Durst, better known as “Dr. Hepcat,” was Texas’ first black disc jockey, who’s rhythmic “jive talk” helped boost the popularity of rhythm and blues, blues and jazz.
Dr. Hepcat was born in Austin in 1913. He taught himself how to play piano at a church located near his home. In the 1940s, the disc jockey got his first gig as an announcer during Negro League baseball games at Austin’s old Disch Field. Former Texas governor, John B. Connally, Jr., owned KVET radio in Austin at the time. Once, he heard Hepcat announcing at a game and asked the future radio pioneer to join the station.
While becoming one of Austin’s best known disc jockeys in the late 40s, he recorded singles like “Hepcat Boogie.” He also managed the spiritual group The Charlottes in the 1950s, as well as wrote “Let’s Talk About Jesus” by the Bells of Joy.
After retiring from KVET in the 60s, durst became a minister, but later returned to the blues performing at live events around Austin. After a long career in music and radio, the disc jockey worked as athletic director at Rosewood Recreation Center until his retirement in 1979. He later passed away in 1995.
Dr. Hepcat’s influence can still be felt generations later. Without his musical skills and “Hep talk” dialect on the radio many ears would not have been exposed to the soulful bellows and soft shrills of Austin’s most well-known black artists today.
– DaLyah Jones, KUTX News