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SPOTLIGHT REPORT


How did Austin come to be a blues town?


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Photo: W.C. Clark

Stevie Ray Vaughan caught the attention of national audiences. But Austin was a hot bed for the blues long before the Vaughan brothers came here to play.

"The blues was in the air—it was up and down the highway," said W.C. Clark about Austin's Blues Scene. "It was in the schools. And blues was in the churches too...when I was born blues was already happening on the East side."

During the 1950s and 1960s Austin's blues scene was hot. Clubs like Charley's Playhouse were always crowded on blues nights. Even white University of Texas students would crowd into the East Austin clubs to hear the blues. But the battles over desegregation changed that and soon the East Austin blues scene began to disappear.

Photo: Harold McMillan talks about his blues history project

The blues didn't fade away in Austin, however, it caught the attention of the white community and moved to new clubs.

Before long Antone's opened and offered a new home for Austin's blues scene as well as some of the greatest blues artists across the country. Soon other artists were moving to Austin and growing the blues scene.

Photo: Gary Clark

Nowadays there's still a lot of interest in Austin's contributions to America's blues history. The University of Texas even offers a new course on the blues that includes lectures from Clifford Antone, the night club owner.

"I really enjoy being able to talk to young people or people of any age about the history of music," Antone said. "Music and the blues is some of the only culture that belongs to this country."

And a new generation is continuing that tradition.

"I'm 19 right now. I started getting interested in the blues at the age of 13," said Gary Clark, one of Austin's up-and-coming blues musicians. "I guess the material is changing. I can't sing about a cotton field. I don't have that depth...so I think it's definitely changing."

The blues will always remain an integral force in American music and Austin's history as well.


Special Thanks to Carl Settles.
Produced by Domenique Bellavia.

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