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Dallas Music History

Dallas' music roots run deep. From the early days of jazz and blues to today's rock, rap and alternative, many musicians began their careers here.


Deep Ellum... the Heart of the Dallas Music Scene

In the early 1870s, a brand-new business district rose around a railroad crossing just east of Dallas. The area was called Deep Ellum: “Deep” because of its distance from the courthouse square, and “Ellum” because of the way its original residents pronounced “Elm.” Theatres like the now famous Majestic housed popular vaudeville shows, while musicians like Alex Moore, Buster Smith, Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter and Blind Willie Johnson blazed trails for blues artists in Dallas and beyond.

In 1925, soon-to-be Deep Ellum legend Blind Lemon Jefferson became one of the first blues musician to record his music. Soon after, the Shelton Brothers came to Deep Ellum to record the first of many “Deep Ellum Blues.” The 1930s saw the arrival of Western swing and hot fiddle bands, with Bob Wills and Roy Newman not far behind. Many of the musicians that followed were heavily influenced by the blues innovators of Deep Ellum’s 1920s era, and while the area went into decline with the Great Depression, this business district by the railroad was destined to rise and reclaim its status as a neighborhood made by and for diverse artists.


When the music returned to prominence in the 1970s, it was punk rock that took center stage. But the blues roots are still noticeable in Deep Ellum and elsewhere throughout the city, and Dallas at large never lost that unique, soulful sound that it became known for after the turn of the century. Ledbetter, Johnson and T-Bone Walker led to Freddie King, Robert Johnson, and eventually, Stevie Ray Vaughan. In turn, these trailblazers inspired the next generations of Dallas artists, whether they sang the blues, shredded a guitar or crafted flawless rhymes.


The Next Generation of Dallas Music


The Turn of the Century

As the clock turned toward another century, with the Texas Playboys becoming The Texas Gentlemen, Dallas became a home for hip-hop and country stars alike. At the same time, radio stations like KZEW (aka “The Zoo”) and venues like The Granada Theatre provided a home for innovative soul-stirrers and songstresses from every genre imaginable.

When the Sex Pistols came across the pond for their first and only tour of the States, they made Dallas their sole Texas stop in what would become a raucous and infamous night at The Longhorn Ballroom. That venue’s recent revival is a testament to the grit and resilience of Dallas’ artists and art scene. As venues continue to rise in Deep Ellum and Oak Cliff, Dallas continues to be a home for musicians of all kinds and the producers, promoters, writers, roadies and fans who will propel the city through the next century and beyond.

Source: Diana Trujillo, VisitDallas


Thank Dallas for that catchy jingle that gets stuck in your head

You might think that jingles were produced in New York or Los Angeles. Some were. But the hub of the jingle industry was Dallas, thanks to two musicians in the 1950s.

“Tom Merriman and Bill Meeks,” Ken Deutsch, a former jingle producer, collector and self-described “jingle freak, says, “were staff musicians at radio stations at a time when radio stations had staff musicians. Tom Merriman was a great singer in his day — great baritone voice. Bill Meeks played saxophone very badly.”

We don’t know who was first, but they each — separately — came up with the idea of mass-producing jingles.

Vocalists would sometimes sing the call letters of their radio stations with their studio bands while announcers were changing shifts. Meeks and Merriman started pre-recording these types of jingles for stations around the world. Out-of-work composers, musicians and singers got wind that there was work in Dallas, and an industry took off.

Partial article from NPR, Photo Credit: PAMS Productions

Did you know . . .

• The first guitar shows in the world were held in Dallas?

• The Statler Hilton in downtown Dallas was the first hotel to feature
    elevator music? 

• The Statler was also the place where Tina Turner was staying when she
    decided to divorce her husband Ike.

•  The Dallas-based lighting and sound company Showco is credited with
     inventing stage monitors and other advancements in the field of pro
     audio? The company more or less helped birth arena rock in the process.