Texas Music Museum highlights diverse music contributions

Written by Liz Lopez of TODO Austin for the Long Center

For many of us who are born and raised in Texas, or have resided here for any length of time, there’s a unique opportunity to become familiar with a wide range of music genres, whether intentionally or by accident. Yet, it is still possible to be unfamiliar with various styles, especially if music appreciation is not emphasized in schools or local museums’ resources are lacking.

Some forms of Texas music have roots in other regions of the U.S. or other countries, but what emerges from the state is a distinctive song craft that has led many to national and international acclaim.

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For 30 years, the Texas Music Museum has identified and spotlighted the state’s musicians who contribute to ours and the world’s music heritage. Located at 1009 E. 11th Street in East Austin, down the street from the Texas Capitol, the venue bustles with activity as visitors’ examine exhibits and volunteers donate their time to research and programs. The collection stems from approximately 20 music styles, ranging from mainstream to the historical, as well as the culturally diverse music made in foreign languages.

The museum hosts a two-day International Music Festival each year in September featuring multicultural performances by notable musical artists that reflect the diversity of the state. This year’s fest is September 12-13 from 12-6 p.m. at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center.

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The current exhibit in the Texas Music Museum’s main gallery, “Tejano Orquestas and the Great Tejana Singers,” explores two unique musical traditions from Texas. It offers in-depth portraits of the orquesta, an evolving ensemble that mixes Texas-Mexican music with Big Band and other popular music styles, and the many important Mexican American female singers who sang with the ensembles.

The exhibit was launched with a reception and award presentation on July 19 to honor three important Austin-area music figures. Johnny Degollado, Leticia Rodriguez and Paco Rodriguez were praised for their seminal contributions to our state’s musical heritage.

“Tejano Orquestas and the Great Tejana Singers” includes a series of individual panels with photos and a short history on musical artists, including Selena Quintanilla Perez, Laura Canales, Lydia Mendoza, Eva Garza, Carmen y Laura, Chelo Silva, Beto Villa, Isidro López, Orquesta Falcon, Sunny Ozuna and many others. The exhibit also features dresses worn by Mendoza, Garza, Silva, and Las Hermanas Gonzalez and a hat once worn by Rita Vidaurri. The exhibit will run through December, 2015.

From the museum’s incorporation in 1984, staff have interviewed and photographed Texas musicians with painstaking effort made to collect and preserve artifacts, historical photographs, documents and reference materials. Since 2003, Texas Music Museum has presented exhibits, educational programming and music programs based on these materials housed at the museum, as well as presented exhibits in public venues, schools, libraries, and in collaboration with other museums and cultural centers in the city.

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The Austin Chronicle called Texas Music Museum Austin’s “Best Roving Museum” in 2005 and the Texas House of Representatives recognized it for its work in preserving the state’s musical heritage. In 2008, the museum also played an important role in honoring the first 10 inductees to the Austin Music Memorial on display at the Long Center, providing photos, biographies, copies of recordings and other memorabilia.

The museum’s exhibits and programs are created with a mission to encourage the public to learn about the state’s musical heritage and through that engagement, contribute to its preservation. Aside from the current exhibit in the main gallery, there are two other gallery areas on the first floor of the historical Marvin C. Griffin Building. “Tejano Music – Spotlight on Austin” highlights Grammy Award winning artist Ruben Ramos, the legendary Manuel “Cowboy” Donley and numerous groups who’ve made Tejano one of the city’s most vibrant cultural exports for over half a century. “Conjunto Music,” likewise, is surveyed in the Hall Gallery.

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The museum’s location near Interstate 35 makes a great entry point to other cultural and historical attractions in the E. 11th Street area, known as the East End Cultural Heritage District, including the French Legation, the Carver Library, Museum and Cultural Center, the Texas State Cemetery and Museum and the historic Victory Grill.

Texas Music Museum continues its work to broaden its collection of oral histories, photos and other artifacts. To volunteer and/or obtain more information, visit www.texasmusicmuseum.org  

The project is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department.

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