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 talks about how one of the state’s most famous songs is based on an incident that may never have actually happened.
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 April 21, 1836, Sam Houston defeated General Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto, winning Texas its independence from Mexico. According to legend, a mulatto woman named Emily West helped the Texans by keeping Santa Anna occupied in his tent, while Houston launched a surprise attack. Soon after the battle, a new song appeared, celebrating Emily West as a hero. First published in 1858, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” became one of the most popular tunes ever written about Texas. It has been recorded by dozens of artists in several languages. However, despite the song’s worldwide fame, historians still are not certain who originally wrote “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” or whether the incident involving Emily West and Santa Anna ever actually occurred.
Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll celebrate a famous ballad singer who also blended honky-tonk with early rockabilly.