This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll meet a piano playing cowboy who was not really a cowboy at all.
A. O. Babel died in Randolph, New York, on January 19, 1896. The son of a music professor, Babel was born in 1858 in Seguin, Texas. He got his start playing piano in Houston-area saloons. In 1885, Babel took his talents north, performing in Chicago as the “cowboy pianist.” Despite his classical training, Babel promoted himself as a genuine Texas cowboy who only played by ear. His clever marketing paid off in 1890, when a popular novel celebrating both his piano playing and his supposed heroic adventures in the Wild West made him a national sensation.
Several people who had known A. O. Babel back in Texas disputed his claims of being a heroic Wild West figure. Nevertheless, by the time of his death in 1896, Babel’s reputation as a piano playing cowboy had spread throughout North America and across Europe.
Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll visit a place that puts the official state seal on the sounds of Texas.