The Center for Texas Music History
Celebrating the Texas music that defines us: Living Texas music history
Moving to Austin, Texas in 1979 to attend UT, I knew a little something about the neo-hippie culture and the cosmic cowboy movement that defined the place in the late 70s. But it would be nearly 20 years before I came to fully appreciate the diversity and exclusivity of the larger Texas music culture, after leaving the state and then returning in the late 90s.
Coincidentally, that’s about the same time Gary Hartman, a musician with a PhD in History with a specialty in immigration studies, realized there was no existing source for collecting or researching the diverse, rich cultural heritage of Texas music. Along with language, food and literature, music defines ethnic and cultural self-identity and contributes to how immigrant cultures interact—it was what Hartman had spent the better part of his life studying. So, he went to his Dean at the History department at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos (now Texas State University) and asked about starting up a Center for Texas Music History.
The Dean loved the idea—as long as it didn’t cost anything.
“I asked ‘How much money do you think I need to raise in order for the administration to take me seriously?’" remembers Hartman. “And he said, 'If you can raise ten grand, they’ll listen to you.’ We’ve raised over $1 million already and it’s all been plowed back into programs.”
And so it began. The Center for Texas Music History (CTMH) at Texas State University became the most credible source for the study of our unique, iconic cultural legacy. “Prior to the Center there was no comprehensive program focusing on the preservation and study of Texas music history,” explains Hartman.
Wednesday night, that legacy will be on stage for all to hear as the Long Center hosts Wish I was in Austin: A 70th Birthday Tribute to Guy Clark, with proceeds benefiting the Center for Texas Music History. As John T. Davis wrote in CultureMap earlier this week, the lineup includes “a veritable Murderer’s Row of Texas-bred-and-based singer/songwriters, including Jerry Jeff Walker, Shawn Colvin, Rodney Crowell, Terry Allen, Rosie Flores, Joe Ely, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jack Ingram, James McMurtry, Radney Foster, the Trishas, Kevin Welch, Terry Hendrix and a host of others, including Clark himself.”
The concert really began as a CD serving as a fundraiser for the CTMH. Producer Tamara Saviano put the CD together, and the response blew Hartman away. “We had such a tremendous response to artists wanting to be on the CD, Tamara actually had to turn artists away.” Not surprising given the status of Guy Clark in the Texas music world—so Hartman started thinking: “You know we’ve already got this CD rolling along, why not have a live concert based on the CD and see how many artists would also do the concert.”
As it turns out, almost all of them.
That’s one reason Hartman is so proud of what he’s created—the musicians themselves believe in it. “Anyone who’s ever worked at a non-profit educational program knows, it has to be a labor of love. You have to believe in it and when you see that others believe in it too then you don’t care how much you work.”
And the musicians do believe. “They understand that it’s more than just about show business,” says Hartman. “It’s part of their legacy and part of this larger legacy of Texas music and the uniqueness of it. That’s really cool.”
The Center for Texas Music History focuses on education, but it’s much more than a small department offering classes about what Professor Hartman would describe as “Texas music from an ethno-historic point of view.”
Besides great CDs and the occasional concert, the Center owns a public archive kept at the Witliff Collections, also at Texas State; it has curated a number of Texas music exhibits at museums around the state, the next one coming in March at the Texas State History Museum; it publishes books like The Handbook of Texas Music, a third of which was written by students and the only comprehensive encyclopedia of its kind; it publishes the Journal of Texas Music History, the most authoritative scholarly work on the subject; it produces documentary films like the dozen available for public school history teachers—and it does most of that for free.
“We have to make money on certain things but when it comes to providing educational materials, our philosophy is if we can provide that free to the public that’s what we want to do.”
Free for the public of course does mean free to the Center. It all costs money—money raised through CDs, book sales and tribute concerts. Hartman’s dream, and one he believes is more than possible is to create a $10 million endowment capable of funding the Center forever.
“We could do tribute concerts because we want to, not because we’re desperate for that money to keep the lifeblood flowing,” he says. “We could expand everything we’re doing. We could do more community outreach, we could do more public school educational programming, we could curate more museum exhibits across the state. We want that money so we don’t have to just exist, we can take it to the next level.”
“When we get that endowment, the sky will be the limit. “
Tickets to the Guy Clark Tribute Concert are still available from the Long Center. The Guy Clark Tribute CD will also be available for sale in limited quantities.
The CD release is scheduled for December 6th.