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 Mary Austin Holley, a pioneering Texas songwriter.
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 celebrate a woman who wrote the state’s first known English-language song.
Mary Austin Holley was born Mary Austin on Oct. 30, 1784, in New Haven, Conn. She learned to play piano, guitar and harp and helped organize local musical events. In 1805, she married Horace Holley, a minister. Mary Austin Holley was a cousin of famed Texas entrepreneur Stephen F. Austin. In October 1831, she visited Austin’s colony, which, at the time, was still part of the Mexican province of Tejas.
While traveling on the Brazos River, Holley wrote “The Brazos Boat Song,” the first known English-language tune to be composed in Texas. Published in 1832, “The Brazos Boat Song” became very popular and was included in several plays about life on the Texas frontier. Over the years, a number of other songwriters composed variations of the “The Brazos Boat Song.” Perhaps the best known of these was Texas songwriter David Guion’s 1936 version, which gained widespread popularity as part of the state’s 1936 Centennial celebration. Although Mary Austin Holley was not a prolific composer, she helped launch a rich songwriting tradition that eventually would make Texas world famous for its songwriters.
Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll remember an eclectic Texas musician who continues to defy categorization.