by Roy Barkley
For centuries Texas has been a musical and cultural crossroads, and the Handbook of Texas Music carefully documents the complex convergence of numerous musical and cultural traditions in this state where east meets west, southern plantations meet high plains ranches, and where an ethnically diverse American culture shares an international border with Mexico. The music of American Indians, Anglo-Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, and numerous immigrant groups - Germans, Czechs, Cajuns, among many others - was brought to Texas from every direction. These groups crossed paths, and for centuries have been swapping songs and styles ranging from ancient fiddle tunes to lively polkas and boogie-woogie piano stomps.
The Handbook of Texas Music tells a compelling story of music that deeply reflects the many distinctive groups that have created Texas music and used it as a means of entertainment, expression, solace, and identity. The recorded country blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson were so popular and influential in the 1920s that his name has come to represent all down-home bluesmen. Gene Autry's singing cowboy music on record and radio and his image on the silver screen and early television had a profound impact on the development of country music and the image of the cowboy in American life. Van Cliburn on stage in Moscow, where he won the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition during the depths of the Cold War, was an important moment in classical musical history and artistic diplomacy. Music pioneers Bob Wills and Milton Brown brought together the country string-band tradition with jazz, blues, pop, mariachi, and other styles, to help create Western Swing - an eclectic music that changed the face of country music, helped pave the way for rock-and-roll, and stands as a perfect symbol of the musical and cultural complexity of Texas.
Scholars and music fans alike will be interested to learn about the many Texans - and Texas connections - found in music that has traveled far beyond the borders of the state. The rosters are long and impressive: country (George Jones, Johnny Horton, Jim Reeves, Buck Owens), blues (Gatemouth Brown, Albert Collins, Lightnin' Hopkins, Charles Brown), rock-and-roll (Roy Orbison, Bobby Fuller, Stevie Ray Vaughn, ZZ Top), jazz (Jack Teagarden, Eddie Durham, Oran "Hot Lips" Page, Ornette Coleman), musica Tejana (Narciso Martinez, Lydia Mendoza, Santiago Jimenez, Valerio Longoria, Selena). And the list goes on. Although the Handbook of Texas Music devotes separate biographical articles only to deceased musicians, important living artists such as Willie Nelson are treated in overview articles on topics such as "Country and Western Music," "Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic," and others.