Artist Profile: Grey Ghost

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.

Grey Ghost (Dec 7, 1903 – July 19, 1996)

After the death of his father, Bastrop’s Roosevelt Thomas “Grey Ghost” Williams moved to Taylor with his mother. There the young Ghost learned to play piano mostly by ear. In the 1920s Ghost moved to Waco and began playing at local dance halls, speakeasies and parties. Over the span of 20 years, he lived a “nomadic-like” life and earned the name “Grey Ghost” because of his tendency to abruptly appear at and leave gigs in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico by train or bus. Ghost played blues and imitated popular artists of the time. After gaining both some national and international recognition, he settled in Austin in the 50s and drove buses for Austin Independent School District until retiring in 1965. Up until his death, Ghost played at venues around Austin that ranged from the historic Victory Grill to Antone’s. Austin Music Memorial inductee is regarded as one of the last Texas barrelhouse piano players whose influence can be heard in the works of blues artists like Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan, as well as W.C. Clark.

– DaLyah Jones, KUTX News

Research assistance and archival material provided by Clay Shorkey of The Texas Music Museum

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