Originally published on September 29, 2014
86-year-old Mexican-American singer, multi-instrumentalist, arranger and composer Manuel “Cowboy” Donley has often been referred to as the “Godfather of Tejano music.” Based in Austin but recognized nationally, Donley led a big band Latin orchestra in the 1950s and assumed the nickname after stepping out from behind the podium and carrying his guitar to the front of the stage “like a cowboy”. Despite only releasing one print recording from his long career, Adios Chiquita, Donley has popularized the trío romántico and orquestra musical styles, which blend Latin rhythms with mainstream American musical genres such as rock and jazz.
Earlier this year Donley received the 2014 National Heritage Fellowship lifetime achievement award, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts by the National Endowment for the Arts. You can hear some of Donley’s recordings from our own Studio 1A and catch live performances some Tuesday evenings at El Gallo restaurant on South Congress Avenue.
Manuel “Cowboy” Donley passed away on June 28, 2020 of natural causes.
– Jack Anderson