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 a talented drummer whose career was almost derailed by appendicitis.
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 KXT’s The Paul Slavens Show, heard Sunday night’s at 8.
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Gus Johnson was born on Nov. 15, 1913, in Tyler. By the age of 11, he was performing with popular jazz bands throughout East Texas. After high school, Johnson moved to Kansas City, where the jazz scene was flourishing. In 1938, he joined Jay McShann’s orchestra, where he played with such jazz legends as Charlie Parker and Gene Ramey. During the 1940s, Johnson moved to New York to become a regular member of Count Basie’s band. In 1952, a bout with appendicitis threatened to end Johnson’s musical career, but he eventually returned to perform with Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horn and other jazz greats.