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 celebrates a famous ballad singer who also blended honky-tonk with early rockabilly.
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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Johnny Horton was born in Los Angeles on April 30, 1925, but grew up near the East Texas town of Rusk. In 1950, he began singing on the radio in Pasadena, near Houston. Horton became famous for such ballads as “The Battle of New Orleans,” “North to Alaska” and “Johnny Reb.” However, he was much more than a ballad singer. Horton also combined honky-tonk with early rockabilly to create his own unique style. His first big hit, “Honky-Tonk Man,” captured the essence of the honky tonk lifestyle, but it also incorporated a rockabilly beat that was quite unusual in country music at the time. Johnny Horton died in a car wreck near Milano, Texas, on Nov. 5, 1960, but his music remains popular and has been recorded by many younger artists.
Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll recall an often overlooked musician who helped lay the foundation for western swing.