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 recalls the unlikely origins of one of the state’s best-known songs.
You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on Friday on KXT and 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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On May 12, 1903, the “Eyes of Texas,” was first performed as part of a minstrel show at the Hancock Opera House in Austin. Drawing from Robert E. Lee’s phrase “The eyes of the South are upon you,” University of Texas student John Lang Sinclair composed the lyrics and set them to the popular melody “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” The “Eyes of Texas” became an immediate hit and soon was performed at a variety of events across campus. In 1930, University of Texas president Harry Benedict ordered the song translated into several languages, and the Students’ Association copyrighted the tune in 1936. Today, royalties from the song help fund scholarships at the university. “The Eyes of Texas” has become so well-known throughout Texas, that it is often mistaken for the official state anthem.
Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll celebrate the longest continuously-running singer-songwriter festival in the nation.