Art&Seek presents This Week in Texas Music History. Every week, we’ll spotlight a different moment and the musician who made it. This week, Texas music scholar Gary Hartman looks at the life of Milk Larkin, who actually stopped making music to prove a point.
You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on Saturday on KERA radio. But subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. And our thanks to KUT public radio in Austin for helping us bring this segment to you.
And if you’re a music lover, be sure to check out Track by Track, the bi-weekly podcast from Paul Slavens, host of KERA radio’s 90.1 at Night.
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This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll honor a popular artist who stopped making records in order to protest the unfair treatment of his fellow black musicians.
Milt Larkin was born in Navasota, Texas, on Oct. 10, 1910. He taught himself to play trumpet and began performing throughout East Texas during the 1930s with a variety of local bands. By the 1940s, he was working alongside some of the most prominent jazz and big band swing artists in the country. Like many other Texas jazz musicians at that time, Larkin left his home state in order to play in the larger and more lucrative markets of Kansas City, Chicago and New York. He performed at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater and later enjoyed a long-term residency at New York’s popular Celebrity Club.
Although Milt Larkin had a large following, he stopped recording for a time during the 1940s as a way to protest the low wages record companies paid most black musicians. In 1977, Larkin moved to Houston, where he continued to perform, often at no charge, in nursing homes and children’s hospitals. His talent and generosity inspired local fans to form the Milt Larkin Jazz Society, which helps support younger performers.
Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll look at a singer who grew up as a sharecropper but went on to become the first Tejano artist ever to win a Grammy.