Texas Music Museums Git It On, Get Ready to Rumble

According to recent coverage in the Dallas Morning News and the Austin American-Statesman, the sleeves are rolled up and Dallas and Austin and maybe even Houston are fixing to fuss and feud over who should be home to the state's official music museum.

Coverage in the Dallas and Austin papers recently focused on the announcement that Fair Park in Dallas will be the site of a Texas Music Museum to open in 2006. It sounds serious enough. Plans are being made to clear out the Hall of Religion (at a values-driven time like this, no less!) in Fair Park, the art deco complex of buildings designed for the Texas Centennial in 1936 that hosts the State Fair every October. It sounds legit with three principal players behind the project including a vice-president at Ericsson. But I cringed at the name of the private foundation doing the funding—Texas! Music. Sound like an ad campaign or a bad musical.

A reaction piece in Sunday’s Austin paper quoted Wayne Miller, who’s been promoting the idea of a Texas Music museum in downtown Austin for nine years, along with folklore expert Pat Jasper, who’s joined the project as the Hall of Fame director, and other backers. They conveyed the sense they still had the upper hand, with heavier celebrity firepower (eg. The potential involvement and support of the producers of Austin City Limits and Lance Armstrong’s deep-pockets production company Capital Sports and Entertainment, though they’re hardly on the same page with Miller now) and more support from city fathers. There’s more of a scene to show off in Austin and more than enough music-oriented tourists in search of a museum for a bigger overview. Miller’s dilemma has been finding a site and nailing the deal down.

Meanwhile, a drive has been underway for several years to launch a similar museum in Houston spearheaded by Lizette Cobb the daughter of Texas tenor sax great Arnette Cobb and president of the Texas Jazz & Blues Archives.

Each city has its own strengths and weaknesses. Though music is a much more visible industry in Austin, especially with the abundance of live music venues, both Dallas and Houston have deeper histories with broader perspectives. Funding or no funding, the Dallas site appears to be on, and Austin seems ready to fight back. Right now, though, I’m giving Dallas the edge because they’ve got Texas’ most thorough and extensive historian, Mack McCormack, on board as an advisor. If they put his knowledge to use and produce the memorabilia in expedient fashion, they’ll be the first. Music museum handicapping out of 100 points: Dallas 45, Austin 40, Houston 15.

Then again, a fourth museum, the Texas Musicians Museum (www.texasmusiciansmuseum.com) may beat them all to the punch. The for-profit museum is run by Thomas Kreason, a former memorabilia collector for Hard Rock Cafes who opened the Sun Studios Gallery on Beale Street. Suddenly I smell cheese, although I got to say, the half hour tour of Sun Studios proper holds its own against a full day at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Sometime this year “a Texas-size museum, featuring more than 100 Texas music legends” will open its door, so says the website—my guess is somewhere near the wax museum complex in Grand Prairie by Interstate 30 just west of Dallas. In the meantime, this month’s feature exhibit on the web is “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott: Metal Master, on the recently-deceased guitarist for Pantera and Damageplan. Expect more SRV than the average Hard Rock. The advisory board includes Craig Hopkins and Timothy Duckworth, both with extensive Stevie ties, and music history authority George Gimarc, who knows a thing or two about the past.

Those big projects are hardly the only ones staking a claim to the right to showcase Texas music in a museum setting. UT professor Clay Shorkey owns the Texas Music Museum name (www.texasmusicmuseum.org) and has been collecting materials as a museum for at least fifteen years, though the institution lacked walls until two years ago, when it located at 1109 East 11th St in East Austin. The music collection at the Southwest Writers’ Collection on the campus of Texas State University in San Marcos is quite impressive, though small, featuring items like Willie Nelson’s first songbook. (Willie’s provided a bunch of other memorabilia to the Texas Road House on I 35 and Slaughter Lane in Austin in exchange for becoming a partner in the venture.) The Barker Collection and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas is a great archive, though you have to know what to look at both (Armadillo World Headquarters and Huey Meaux stuff at the Barker, Charlie Parker recordings at the Ransom).

Several other smaller music museums around the state that are already up and running capture the essence of Texas music and offer a comprehensive view of What It Is if you have time and gas money to visit them all: the New Braunfels Museum of Art and Music in Gruene (www.nbmuseum.org) which is a Smithsonian affiliate, the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Carthage, Tex Ritter’s hometown, the Lefty Frizzell Country Museum in Corsicana, the Bob Wills Museum in Turkey, the Heart of Texas Country Music Museum in Brady (www.hillbillyhits.com) organized by Tracy Pitcox which includes displays of show costumes including Johnny Wright’s Nudie suit, Johnny Bush’s pointy-toe boots and belt, George Strait’s Resistol hat, and Rose Maddox’ stage dress, as well as Jim Reeves’ 1956 touring bus, the Buddy Holly collection at the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock (www.buddyhollycenter.org),the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. (“Remember Our Own Tejano Stars”) Music Hall of Fame Museum in Alice, a rival Tejano museum planned for downtown Corpus Christi, the Little Joe Museum in Temple, the virtual West Texas Music Hall of Fame and Museum (www.westtexmusichof.com), a mobile gospel music museum in a bus that is being readied up in Arlington, Eddie Fadal’s virtual Elvis Presley Museum in Waco and Little Graceland in Los Fresnos.



Texans of note are on their way to being recognized in a Fair Park music museum.

The Dallas City Council gave Texas! Music the go-ahead Wednesday to build and operate the museum dedicated to preserving Texas music collections and memorabilia.

The museum could be open as early as 2007.

Music museum planned at Fair Park
Center honoring state's place in music history may hit Fair Park in '07

06:31 PM CST on Thursday, January 13, 2005

By EMILY RAMSHAW / The Dallas Morning News

A Fair Park museum recognizing Texas' musical history could be open as early as 2007, parks officials said Wednesday.

The Dallas-based nonprofit group Texas! Music has asked the city for permission to operate the Texas Music Museum – which would spotlight historic collections, music and memorabilia – in the fairground's converted Hall of Religions. City Council members should make a decision this month.

"We simply haven't advertised our rich musical history," council member Veletta Forsythe Lill said. "There are probably more live music venues here than in Austin."

The career of Gene Autry could be a likely feature of the Texas Music Museum.
The museum and connecting Hall of Fame would document the early roots of popular music in the South, where Dallas was a crossroads of experimentation. And it would examine the influence of Texas natives on today's common genres, from jazz and blues to country and Western swing.

"I'm not sure there's anything like this in the state," said Paul Dyer, Dallas' director of parks and recreation. "This was the epicenter for a number of styles."

Museum founders – all of them volunteers – plan to spend the next two years restoring the Hall of Religions to its 1936 design, at a cost of nearly $780,000. The building, which houses the Fair Park Business Office and sits between the Magnolia Lounge and African American Museum, would be expanded to its original size in future years, putting the total cost at nearly $3 million.

"If we can get this off the ground and start to raise some money, and build a real supportive and active board, I think this is good for the city and good for Fair Park," said Renee Riggs, one of the project's advocates.

While the first phase will be paid for with funds raised privately by Texas! Music, organizers said they haven't ruled out asking the city for assistance for future phases. Three community leaders are spearheading the charge: Ms. Riggs; Larry Taylor, vice president of Ericsson Inc.; and Bob Meckfessel, president of the Trinity Commons Foundation.

Also Online
Tell Us: What or who would you like to see featured in the Texas Music Museum?

Map: Museum to open in Fair Park

Hammer of the Gods: Click on "Guitar Sites" for a quick tour of Dallas' musical history

En español: Promueven apertura de un museo de la música texana
Exhibits will be prepared in conjunction with area historians and library archives, officials said. And they hope the museum's location – across the "Music Green" from the Fair Park Music Hall – will set the stage for concerts and an outdoor Music Walk of Fame.

They also would like the Dallas museum to be named a trailhead for the Texas Music Trail, a network of music museums across the state proposed by the governor's office. A Dallas-Fort Worth trail linking historically significant music sites in the region is also on the drawing board.

"It fills a historical gap we haven't focused on," Acting City Manager Mary Suhm said. "There's lots of musical history here – it's where lots of paths met."

Dallas' music scene took off in the early 1920s, with the rise of radio broadcasting and the city securing a prime spot on the national jazz circuit.

By the 1930s, Dallas had become a central point on the region's rail line, attracting visitors from across the state, museum advocates say. The cultural melting pot fused the musical tastes of whites, blacks and Hispanics, and fostered the careers of gospel star Arizona Dranes, legendary country singer Ernest Tubb and jazz saxophonist Buster Smith.

Gene Autry and Jimmie Rodgers rose to fame with the image of the singing cowboys and country crooners. And Dallas hotels, lounges and recording studios served as the gathering places for rising stars like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly), and Robert Johnson.

"What's unique about Texas is the breadth of musical genres that developed here," Mr. Taylor said. "What we really want to do is connect the music to the community, and to how culture developed."

Planning for the music museum began in late 2002, with project leaders considering sites in downtown and Deep Ellum. They eventually turned their sights on Fair Park after attempts to restore a historic recording studio on Park Avenue fell through.

The museum will bring more visitors at Fair Park and increase music and culture-related tourism, Mr. Dyer said.

"It will continue to add to the critical mass," he said.

Advisers to the project include Texas folklorist Robert "Mack" McCormick, who owns one of the most extensive private archives in Texas musical history, and J.D. Coleman, a jazz music collector and personal friend of many of the musicians to be featured in the exhibit.

E-mail eramshaw@dallasnews.com .

Some of the artists who could be featured in the Texas Music Museum:

Gene Autry

Aaron "T-Bone" Walker

Arizona Dranes

Charlie Christian

Bill Boyd

Prince Albert Hunt

Chuck Wagon Gang

Lightcrust Doughboys

Milton Brown

Ernest Tubb

Buster Smith

Blind Lemon Jefferson

Texas Alexander

Al Dexter

Dallas joins race to build major music museum
Austin group works on marketing, site for Texas Music Hall of Fame.
By Sarah Coppola


Sunday, January 30, 2005

In the early 20th century, when folk singers and country crooners were making a name for themselves in Austin, jazz musicians were jamming in the clubs of downtown Dallas. Other sounds emanated from Dallas' streets: Tejano, swing, country.

The two cities each carved out a place in Texas' rich musical history. Now they will race each other and Houston to build the premier tourist spot to commemorate that history.

A Dallas nonprofit signed a deal with the Dallas City Council this week to build a music museum at the Hall of Religions in Fair Park, east of downtown Dallas. The museum will have exhibits and historic collections celebrating 20th-century musicians across Texas, with a focus on North Texas artists.

Austin has its own idea: a Texas Music Hall of Fame.

And a Houston group has been raising money for five years to build a music museum there.

Last spring, the Austin City Council signed on to music producer Wayne Miller's plan for the Hall of Fame, which would feature yearly induction ceremonies, televised concerts and merchandise.

"In a way, Dallas is kind of behind the curve because Austin City Council got behind us last spring," Miller said. "We don't see them as competition. We'll want to work with them. But we will also want to be the hub of the wheel."

Texas has no central music museum or hall of fame, though there are 63 smaller museums, music libraries and archives across the state. Austin, for example, has a Texas Music Museum, which has a comprehensive collection but isn't affiliated with the Hall of Fame.

"Texas has such a big music tradition I suspect it would take more than one museum to do it justice," said Bob Santelli, president of the Music Museum Alliance, a national group.

Austin's project is backed by a long list of music insiders and Texas notables, and organizers want it to be on par with Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Austin organizers are working on a marketing plan and refining their vision for the project. What they need most is a location. They have their eyes on the Seaholm Power Plant and Block 21 near the new City Hall, both prime downtown spots. Miller has spent much of the past year talking with developers about their ideas for those sites.

The city has accepted design proposals for Seaholm and Block 21 and should reveal which it has chosen in the next few months, spokeswoman Kristen Vassallo said. The city recommended that designers include the Hall of Fame in their proposals.

The Hall of Fame would be roughly 50,000 square feet honoring musicians from around the state, with interactive exhibits and possibly an indoor stage. It also would have concerts with themes such as "Women of Texas Music." The goal for opening is 2009 or 2010.

Miller said Austin won't start a fund-raising campaign, which could be for more than $25 million, until a site is picked.

The Dallas group Texas Music started working on its museum idea in 2002, but its first plan, to restore an old Park Avenue recording studio, fell through.

The group will need to raise about $1 million to fix up the Hall of Religions, currently a makeshift office for city workers. It could take another $2 million to rebuild a section of the building that was demolished in the '70s, making the museum 8,000 square feet. The group hopes to open by 2007. The museum would be near Music Green, an open-space concert venue that the city is planning.

"Different genres of music, from western swing to Tejano and jazz — Dallas was really a crossroads for all that music," said Renne Riggs, one of the museum's organizers.

Dallas' musical reputation swelled in the '20s as it became a prime spot on the national jazz scene and as radio took hold. Later, Dallas recording studios and lounges became a hub for budding musicians such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Ernest Tubb. The barn dance at Dallas radio station WBAP was adopted by the Grand Ole Opry, and Charlie Parker did his first recording sessions in Dallas.

The Houston group Museum of American Music History has a contract to buy a 13,000-square-foot building downtown and has $30 million more in pledges. The group said it later hopes to buy a larger space to fit its collection of music history gathered in the past decade, project manager Stephen Williams said.

"Austin is much farther along and has embraced a much more ambitious undertaking, which will make the difference," said Pat Jasper, the Hall of Fame's director. "It will drive tourism here specifically to this city."

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