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This Week in Texas Music History: Mollie Bailey

by Stephen Becker 30 Sep 2011 2:15 PM

This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll recall a pioneering businesswoman whose life was a three-ring circus.


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 pioneering businesswoman whose life was a three-ring circus..

You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on Sunday at precisely 6:04 p.m. 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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Mollie Bailey died in Houston on Oct. 2, 1918. Born near Mobile, Ala., on Nov. 2, 1844, Bailey was only 14 when she eloped with a cornet player from a circus band. The couple formed their own traveling act and performed throughout the South. It was around this time that Mollie’s husband, Gus, wrote the lyrics to the tune “The Old Gray Mare,” which remained a popular folk song well into the 20th century.

By the 1870s, Mollie and Gus Bailey had settled in Texas, where they ran a successful circus that was billed as “A Texas show for Texas people.” As Gus’s health declined, Mollie took over management of the circus, expanding it to include more than 200 animals. She also invested in real estate and came to be known for her generous support of local charities. In addition to her many other accomplishments, some believe that Mollie Bailey may have been the first to offer a public screening of a motion picture in Texas, when her circus featured a short film clip of the 1898 sinking of the U.S.S. Maine.

Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll honor a popular artist who stopped making records in order to protest the unfair treatment of his fellow black musicians.