Art&Seek has recently begun a new feature that we run on Saturdays called This Week in Texas Music. The series, produced by KUT in Austin, looks back each week at an important figure in the state’s musical legacy.
This weekend, the series focuses on Charline Arthur, a guitar player who toured with Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis on the Louisiana Hayride. Arthur was a champion of gender equality in music, much like one of her Texas music contemporaries, Ruby Almond. I don’t know if the series plans to feature Almond, but it was recently brought to my attention that Texas A&M – Commerce has recently acquired a pretty sizable archive of the late fiddle player.
Almond’s career began at a time in the 1940s when fiddle-playin’ wasn’t really seen as very ladylike. Still, you can only thwart talent for so long, and in 1947, Almond was named “National Champion Lady Fiddler.” I’m not sure how that title was determined, but suffice it to say that she was good. She went on to work with Chet Atkins, who recorded several of her songs. Almond died in 2006. But shortly before her death, she agreed to let her neighbor, Audra Brock, collect her artifacts for the public to see.
“To Ruby, her songs and her playing were symbols of what she could do. They represented the conquest of her abilities and talents, and they were demonstrative of her love for beauty,” Brock wrote me in an e-mail. “Thus, they were not to be an inheritance for some member of her family or acquaintances. She wanted her music heard and enjoyed … that gave her great satisfaction.”
The collection in Commerce includes some of Almond’s instruments, recordings and photographs, among other items. It’s housed in the Gee Library on the A&M-Commerce campus. For Texas music fans, it’s probably worth stopping by for a looksee. Take a look at this video of Almond performing in her 60s for a taste of what you might find out there: