The History of the Juneteenth Celebration


1976 Juneteenth Parade, Houston. Photo by Benny Joseph.
Documentary Arts, Inc., and University of Toledo)

Perhaps the three most significant documents in U.S. history that exemplify America’s passion for freedom are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Emancipation Proclamation. Although each has maintained its rightful place in the annals of American history, only the Bill of Rights and the Constitution have identifiable dates and cultural festivities. Each year, America celebrates the Fourth of July, Constitution Day and Flag Day, all of which have developed into an expression and ceremony of appreciation by the American People with special events emphasizing the historical importance of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The Emancipation Proclamation, which is particularly significant to African Americans, has not until recently received its rightful day of national appreciation. With the resurgence of the African American community’s celebration of Juneteenth, America is growing in its awareness and appreciation of this highly meaningful document.

The celebration of Juneteenth is not only a show-
case event of the African American community’s positive contributions to the American way of life, but it also makes a statement for all Americans that the United States is truly the “Land of the Free.” Juneteenth is an expression and extension of American freedom and, like the Fourth of July, a time for all Americans to celebrate our independence, human rights, civil rights and freedom.

Juneteenth began in the great state of Texas when Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army led his troops into the city of Galveston. There, on June 19, 1865, he officially proclaimed freedom for slaves in that state. Granger’s ride through Galveston culminated a two-and-a-half year trek through America’s deep south. But many states, parishes and counties had been excluded from learning of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, leaving millions of African American slaves without their freedom. Thus it was that on this date the African American slaves of Texas and other parts of the South celebrated the final execution of the Emancipation Proclamation, giving them their freedom forever.

The former slaves of Galveston were quick to establish what was to become a tradition for African American communities across the United States. One the evening of June 19, 1865, thousands flooded the streets of Galveston, rejoicing in their newly-announced freedom The sweet smell of barbecue smoke filled the air. Dancing feet pounded the dirt roads and harmonic voices sung spirituals. This was the day, Juneteenth, that would forever commemorate African American Freedom.

In the immediate years to follow, Galveston and other Southern cities began to structure Juneteenth activities. Not only was there food, dance and song, but Juneteenth provided the opportunity to express to young and old alike the fact that African Americans are a proud people with past, present and future contributions to American society. Religions organizations were hosts to revivals. Civic, political, business and social organizations distributed information and established educational and recreational competitions. At the beginning of the every Juneteenth celebration, there was a dramatic rendering of that most important of documents–the Emancipation Proclamation.

As African Americans from Texas and other parts of the South began to migrate to the North, East and West, they took with them the tradition of Juneteenth, spreading the word that African American Freedom has roots in the celebration of Juneteenth. Although for years Juneteenth continued to exist predominately as a local and neighborhood festival, today it is emerging as a major expression of African American culture. Like Cinco de Mayo, Saint Patrick’s Day and Chinese New Year, the celebration of Juneteenth acknowledges the price, history, culture and freedom of an important part of American society and helps to unify the nation as a whole.

By Reginald D. Greene, 1987


Reproduced from the 1997 Berkeley Juneteenth Festival Program with permission from the Berkeley Juneteenth Association, Inc.

Go to the Juneteenth Bibliography page for a description of books on the Juneteenth Celebration

The Emancipation Proclamation

was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862, immediately following the Union victory at Antietam, and took effect January 1, 1863.

Whereas on the 22d day of September, A.D. 1862, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing among other things, the following, to wit:

“That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for actual freedom.

“That such executives will on the 1st day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State or the people thereof shall on that day be in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such States shall have participated shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State and the people thereof are not then in rebellion against the United States.”

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, and in accordance with my purpose so to do, publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days from the first day above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof, respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States the following, to wit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (except the parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terrebone, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the city of New Orleans), Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia (except the forty-eight counties designated as Elizabeth City, York, Princess Anne, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts are for the present left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States and parts of States are, and henceforward shall be, free; and that the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed services of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.

By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Jefferson Davis Approves the Surrender of the Confederacy 

Letter of April 24, 1865, delivered by General J. E. Johnston, Greensboro, North Carolina

The Secretary of War has delivered to me the copy you handed to him of the basis of an agreement between yourself and General Sherman. Your action is approved. You will so inform Genl. Sherman; and if the like authority be given by the government of the United States to complete the arrangement, you will proceed on the basis adopted. Further instructions will be given as to the details of negotiation and the methods of executing the terms of agreement when notified by you of the readiness on the part of the Genl. Commanding U. S. forces to proceed with the arrangement.

Major General Gordon Granger’s General Order Number 3

Issued June 19, 1865 from the balcony of Ashton Villa, Galveston, Texas.

The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer. The freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and that they will not be supported in idleness, either there or elsewhere.

Texas Freedmen’s Bureau Established

The federal government established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands on March 3, 1865.

General Edgar M. Gregory became the assistant commissioner for the Texas Freedmen’s Bureau in September 1865. According to Patricia Smith Prather, “The broad role of the bureau was to supervise contracts between freedmen and their employers, establish schools, furnish rations and medical services, and manage confiscated or abandoned lands–leasing and selling some to freedmen.”

The Clayton Library of Houston has acquired the Texas Freedmen’s Bureau papers. 

13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

Ratified December 6, 1865.

Section 1

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Proclamation of Texas Governor J. V. Allred

Making June 20, 1938 “Emancipation Day,” issued May 25, 1938.


    Whereas, the Negroes in the State of Texas observe June 19 as the official day for the celebration of Emancipation from slavery; and

    Whereas, June 19, 1865, was the date when General Robert* S. Granger, who had command of the Military District of Texas, issued a proclamation notifying the Negroes of Texas that they were free; and

    Whereas, since that time, Texas Negroes have observed this day with suitable holiday ceremony, except during such years when the day comes on a Sunday; when the governor of the State is asked to proclaim the following day as the holiday for State observance by Negroes; and

    Whereas, June 19, 1938, this year falls on Sunday;

    NOW THEREFORE, I, JAMES V. ALLRED, Governor of the State of Texas, do set aside and proclaim the day of June 20, 1938, as the date for observance of


in Texas, and do urge all members of the Negro race in Texas to observe the day in a manner appropriate to its importance to them.

    IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto signed my name officially and caused the Seal of State to be impressed hereon at Austin, this 25th day of May, A. D. 1938.

    J. V. Allred
    Governor of Texas

*Governor Allred mistakenly attributed Robert as General Gordon Granger’s first name.

Texas House Resolution 23 Recognizing Juneteenth as a Holiday

62nd Texas Legislature, 1972, sponsored by Curtis Graves (Houston) and Wesley Zan Homes (Dallas).

    Whereas, On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger, representing the United States Government, landed at Galveston and issued a general order from the President of the United States and declared that all slaves were free; and

    Whereas, On June 19, 1865, Black people in Texas rejoiced in joining fellow Blacks across the nation who were freed January 1, 1865; and

    Whereas, From that day, which is fully six and one-half months after the Emancipation Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln came into force, Black people in Texas were recognized to be an integral part of our state’s social, political, and economic structure; and

    Whereas, The Black people in the State of Texas continue to make increasing contributions of the development and culture of the State of Texas; and

    Whereas, Blacks serve in many high offices and capacities in Texas, including the State Legislature, where they have made distinctive contributions to the legislative process and in the service of all their constituency; now, therefore, be it

    Resolved, That the House of Representatives of the 62nd Legislature, Third Called Session, honor the Black people of Texas for their contributions to the state; and, be it further

    Resolved, That the House of Representatives recognize “Juneteenth” as an annual holiday of significance to all Texans, and, particularly, to the Blacks of Texas, for whom this date symbolizes freedom from slavery.

Emancipation Day (Juneteenth) Celebrated as a State of Texas Holiday

Signed by Governor William Clements June 7, 1979; effective January 1, 1980. Submitted by Representative Al Edwards (Houston,) and sponsored by Senator Chet Brooks (Pasadena.)

House Bill 1016, 66th Legislature Regular Session, Chapter 481, makes June 19 a state holiday in honor of the emancipation of the slaves in Texas in 1865. June 3, in honor of Jefferson Davis’ birthday, was dropped as a state holiday. Robert E. Lee’s birthday now is celebrated on January 19 as “Confederate Heroes Day.”


    relating to a declaration of Emancipation Day in Texas as a legal holiday


    SECTION 1. Article 4591, Revised Civil Statutes of Texas, 1925, as amended, is amended to read as follows:

    Art. 4591. ENUMERATION. The first day of January, the 19th day of January, the third Monday in February, the second day of March, the 21st day of April, the last Monday in May, the 19th day of June, the fourth day of July, the 27th day of August, the first Monday in September, the second Monday in October, the 11th day of November, the fourth Thursday in November, and the 25th day of December, of each year, and every day on which an election is held throughout the state, are declared legal holidays, on which all public offices of the state may be closed and shall be considered and treated as Sunday for all purposes regarding the presenting for the payment or acceptance and of protesting for and giving notice of the dishonor of bills of exchange, bank checks and promissory notes placed by law upon the footing of bills of exchange. The nineteenth day of January shall be known as “Confederate Heroes Day” in honor of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and other Confederate heroes. The 19th day of June is designated “Emancipation Day in Texas” in honor of the emancipation of the slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865.

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A Juneteenth Bibliography

There aren’t many books in print with Juneteenth as the primary subject. The following three books for children were available from in late 1998:

Muriel Miller Branch’s Juneteenth: Freedom Day (Cobblehill, ISBN 0525652221) for 8 to 12 year old readers was published in April 1998. Juneteenth is the grandfather of all holidays for Black Texans From its spontaneous beginning on June 19, 1865, as slaves in Galveston, Texas, reacted to the delayed news of the Emancipation Proclamation, the holiday has spread nationwide among Black Americans. image
Valerie Wesley’s Freedom’s Gifts: A Juneteenth Story (Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0689802692) for the same age range is a fictional account of Juneteenth from the perspective of a young Texas girl explaining the significance of Juneteenth to her New York cousin. Freedom’s Gifts received a glowing review in the June 22, 1997 issue of the New York Times Review of Books (from the Internet Archive, a.k.a., Wayback Machine.) image
Juneteenth Jamboree by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Yvonne Buchanan (Lee & Low, 1995, ISBN 1880000180) is another children’s book (grades 2 – 4) that’s received mixed reviews. The Horn Book says it’s a “flat description of a Texas Town’s Juneteenth celebration” and that the illustrations are “pallid.” Publisher’s Weekly called it “[f]estive and full of mirth.” The story line is similar to Freedom’s Gifts. image

Following are three out-of-print children’s books on Juneteenth that are difficult-to-obtain, but may be available at your local library:

  • Juneteenth by Anna Pearl Barrett, edited by Frances B. Goodman and illustrated by Howard Costner (Larksdale, 1993, ISBN 0898961114)
  • Juneteenth Celebration Cookbook by Carol Freida (Carol Freida, 1997, ISBN 1890928313)
  • Let’s Pretend: Mae Dee and Her Family Join the Juneteenth Celebration by Ada DeBlanc Simond and Sarochin Shannon (Stevenson Press, 1978, ISBN 0894820273)

Following are four books and one video with important Juneteenth Celebration content:

Juneteenth Texas: Essays in African-American Folklore (Publications of the Texas Folklore Society, No. 54), edited by Francis Edward Abernathy, Alan B. Govenar, and Patrick Mullen (University of North Texas Press, 1996, ISBN 1574410180) is a collection of 21 essays with a decidedly South-Texas bent. The Midwest Book Review describes this 364-page, hardcover book as “a fine collection of essays.”

Following is the book’s table of contents:

  • Preface, Patrick B. Mullen, Alan Govenar
  • African-American Folklore in Texas and in the Texas Folklore Society, Francis Edward Abernethy
  • Black Sacred Harp Singing Remembered in East Texas, Donald R. Ross
  • Henry Truvillion of the Big Thicket: A Song Worth Singing, Jesse Truvillion
  • Once Upon a Time in Houston’s Fourth Ward, James Thomas Jackson
  • Where the Cedars Grove, Clyde E. Daniels
  • Mance Lipscomb: Fight, Flight or the Blues, Glen Alyn
  • More than Just ‘Possum’n Taters: Texas-African Foodways in the WPA Slave Narratives, T. Lindsay Baker
  • Giving Honor to God, the Joy and Salvation in My Life: The Appreciation Service in Song, Jan Rosenberg
  • From Gumbo to Grammys: The Development of Zydeco Music in Houston, Lorenzo Thomas
  • From Bebop to Hard Bop and Beyond: The Texas Jazz Connection, Dave Oliphant
  • African-American Blacksmithing in East Texas, Richard Allen Burns
  • Musical Traditions of Twentieth Century African-American Cowboys, Alan Govenar
  • John Biggers – Artist: Traditional Folkways of the Black Community, Alvia J. Wardlaw
  • The African-American Folktale and J. Mason Brewer, Lorenzo Thomas
  • Juneteenth: A Red Spot Day on the Texas Calendar, William H. Wiggins, Jr.
  • Lightnin’ Hopkins: Blues Bard of the Third Ward, John Wheat
  • “Bongo Joe”: A Traditional Street Performer, Pat Mullen
  • West African Fiddles in Deep East Texas, John Minton
  • “The Yellow Rose of Texas”: A Different Cultural View, Trudier Harris
  • The Texas Trailblazer Project, Patricia Smith Prather
  • Appendix: The Texas African-American Photography Collection and Archive, Alan Govenar
  • Appendix: The African-American Museum of Dallas, Alan Govenar
  • Appendix: Selected Listing of Resources by the editors,
  • Contributors
  • Index

William H. Wiggins, Jr.’s essay is the sole Juneteenth topic in this book, but if you’re into the history of blues or zydeco, you’ll enjoy the essays on Mance Lipscomb, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Clifton Chenier. Southeast Texas, and particularly Houston, is home to many musicians who migrated west from Louisiana and Mississippi.

Berkeley’s Chris Strachwitz (owner of Arhoolie Records, now moved a couple of miles north to El Cerrito) plays a major role in the book. Strachwitz started Arhoolie with the intention of recording Lightnin’ Hopkins live “at the beer joints where he worked.” Arhoolie’s first release (LP #1001), however, turned out to be Mance Lipscomb‘s first recording; Strachwitz was responsible for Lipscomb’s appearance in the 1961 Berkeley Jazz Festival. Arhoolie’s current catalog lists five Lightnin’ Hopkins CDs and four Mance Lipscomb albums.

Clifton Chenier, a.k.a. “The King of Zydeco,” made Houston the zydeco capital of the U.S. I first heard Chenier play in what was left of Houston’s “Frenchtown” in the 1960s and later in Richmond. I have the majority of Arhoolie’s early Chenier albums on carefully preserved vinyl. — R.J

Jubilation! African-American Celebrations in the Southeast, edited by Douglas DeNatale (University of South Carolina Press, 1994, ISBN 157003009X), includes a chapter on the history of Juneteenth celebration by William H. Wiggins, Jr. Jubilation! is a 90-page soft-cover catalog of the exhibition mounted by the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum in September 1993. The exhibition traveled to seven cities from June 5, 1994 (Detroit) through April 28, 1996 (Los Angeles).

Following is the book’s table of contents:

  • Preface and Acknowledgments
  • Introduction, Douglas DeNatale
  • Curator’s Statement, Lesley Williams
  • African American Celebrations: An Historical and Cultural Overview (1865-1969), William H. Wiggins, Jr.
  • I’ve Got Something to Celebrate, Vennie Deas-Moore
  • “We Put the Big Pot in the Little Pot and Seasoned It with the Legs” Celebrations in African American Family Life, Marilyn M. White
  • Remembering the Spirit of Celebration in a South Carolina Community, John W. Roberts
  • “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: African American Community Celebrations and the Reification of Cultural Structures, Gerald L. Davis
  • From Galveston to Washington: Charting Juneteenth’s Freedom Trail, William H. Wiggins, Jr.
  • The Exhibition
  • List of Contributors
  • Lenders to the Exhibition
  • Bibliography
Like Juneteenth Texas, the catalog contains only one essay specifically about the Juneteenth Celebration. Prof. Wiggins traces the spread of Juneteenth celebrations throughout the country, with special emphasis on the 1968 “Poor People’s March” to Washington, DC, and Rev. Ralph David Abernathy’s Juneteenth Mule Train. Prof. Wiggins recounts that Eartha Kitt was just one of the prominent entertainers who marched in the 1968 Juneteenth parade in the nation’s capitol. — R.J. imageWilliam H. Wiggins is Professor of African American Studies and Folklore at Indiana University.

Oh, Freedom!: Afro-American Emancipation Celebrations, by William H. Wiggins, Jr., is a 200-page illustrated paperback reprint (University of Tennessee Press, 1990, ISBN 0870496654) of a 1987 hardbound edition.

Oh, Freedom! is the the only scholarly treatise available that covers the gamut of African-American freedom celebrations on January 1, February 1, May 8, May 28, June 19, August 8, and September 23-24. The book won the Benjamin A. Botkin Prize for American folklore. (Botkin was the folklore editor of the depression-era Federal Writers Project and the author of Lay My Burden Down, an abridged version of Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves, 1936-1938. Slave Narratives contains first-person responses to two basic questions: “What does it mean to be free? Even more, how does it feel?) image

Martha Southgate says in the The New York Times Book Review: “Wiggins has combined painstaking research and detailed interviews with a relaxed, readable writing style to produce a richly textured and fascinating account of a little-known slice of Americana.” David S. Azzolina’s review in Library Journal states: “Basing his analysis on fieldwork and solid historical research, Wiggins gives a vivid portrayal of a celebration of ethnic price in all its diversity. Though varied over time and space, the celebratory message of freedom from slavery comes through clearly. Activities — singing, dancing, speechmaking — are described. Interesting illustrations, posters, programs, buttons, photographs — support this intimate, carefully produced book.” — R.J.

Juneteenth: Celebrating Emancipation, edited by Robert D. Selim and Niani Kilkenny (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985) , also includes a chapter, “Juneteenth: A Freedom Celebration of Southwestern Blacks,” by William H. Wiggins, Jr. Unfortunately, this book is out of print and doesn’t appear in either the or the Web site. You might be able to find it at a university or large municipal library. The Smithsonian’s Anacostia Museum and Center for African-American Culture sponsored “Juneteenth ’91, Freedom Revisited.” image


A Time to Be Remembered: A Juneteenth Story” is a 57-minute VHS videotape, Teacher’s Guide, Student’s Time Line, and Activity Ideas package produced by Karol Media. The following is from Karol Media’s description of the tape:“Focusing upon events and trends taking place between the repeal of the Missouri Compromise (1854) and the U.S. Supreme Court Dred Scott Decision (1857), A Juneteenth Story introduces familiar and not so familiar faces in American history. From Henry ‘Box’ Brown, to Joseph E. Brown of Georgia, Jefferson Davis, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown, students of all ages are introduced to the personalities and motives behind familiar places and dates.Viewers get a glimpse of the Underground Railroad offering passage to Canada and the North, and see how the concepts of ‘abolitionist’ and ‘secessionist’ led to the Civil War, and witness the emergent self-aware African-American population ratified into law by the 13th Amendment of the Constitution in December 6, 1865.” image


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The Southeast Texas – East Bay Music Connection

Like the Juneteenth Celebration, which originated in Galveston and spread throughout the United States, southeast Texas has had a major influence on the Bay Area music scene. Most folks know that Janis Joplin, born in Port Arthur, Texas, spent 1963 to 1965 in San Francisco, then migrated to the Bay Area again in 1996 to join Big Brother and the Holding Company. What’s not so well known is the influence of other South Texas musicians on the blues, 1950s R&B, and zydeco. Many of these musicians played at early Berkeley Folk and Blues Festivals, as well as in other local venues such as Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland and St. Mark’s Church Hall in Richmond. This page traces the history of the musical confluence of the southeast Texas Gulf and San Francisco Bay

The Blues

In the 1940′s, it was Oakland sound, Texas style — electrified. The BluesWeb’s Bay Area Blues Traditionessay claims, “For the most part, [the new Oakland music] was of the down-home Texas variety, only plugged into electricity to create an exciting urban variety that writer Michael Lydon has appropriately dubbed ‘boogie lightnin’.” Among the many bluesmen who performed around the area during the mid-to-late forties were such soon-to-be-important figures as Ivory Joe Hunter, Lowell Fulson, Jimmy McCracklin, Pee Wee Crayton and Jimmy Witherspoon.” (Ivory Joe Hunter is from Kirbyville [north of Beaumont], Lowell Fulson arrived via Gainsville, and Pee Wee Crayton came from Austin.) In the 1980s, Sonny Rhodes, from Smithville via Austin, played regularly at Eli’s Mile High Club. Rhodes’ famous “Cigarette Blues,” is a forerunner of today’s anti-smoking advertisements: “She woke up coughin’. She thought she had a cold, but after years of smokin’ cigarettes, her lungs were about to fold.” L. C. “Good Rockin” Robinson, a major Bay Area blues artist from whom Rhodes learned Hawaiian lap steel guitar technique, hails from Brenham, Texas, about half-way between Austin and Houston. Oakland gets the honors for early recognition of Texas bluesmen, but it took Berkeley’s Folk and Blues Festivals, along with a Berkeley record producer, to bring the Texas blues and its practitioners to world-wide attention and acclaim. image

Sonny Rhodes at Eli’s Mile High Club (Photo by Alan Govenor from Meeting the Blues: The Rise of the Texas Sound)

Beau D. Glen Lipscomb (b. April 9, 1895, Navasota, Texas), also known as Bodyglin and Crackshot in his youth, borrowed his adult first name, Mance, from a long-time friend named Emancipation. Lipscomb, son of an Alabama slave who played the fiddle professionally after his emancipation, received his first guitar at the age of 12. Lipscomb was a major influence on the later work of Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder, Lucinda Williams, Guy Clark, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Taj Mahal, and Janis Joplin. Sam Andrew of Big Brother and The Holding Company says: “We listened gratefully to Mance Lipscomb play his beautiful Texas style guitar, a style that embraced the blues, Mexican music, ‘country and western’, church hymns, ragtime and any other music that came through the Texas crossroads. Mr. Lipscomb’s music was a salvation, a way out, and we knew it right away.” imageMance Lipscomb, Navasota, Texas, 1960 (Photo by Chris Strachwitz, courtesy of Arhoolie Records)

Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records “discovered” Lipscomb with the aid of Houston folklorist, Mack MacCormick, in 1960; Strachwitz recorded Lipscomb for Arhoolie’s first album (1001) in Navasota with a single mic. (Strachwitz credits MacCormick for the name “Arhoolie,” which means “field holler” in the southeast.) Strachwitz and Barry Olivier later convinced Lipscomb (by a $300 performance fee) to take the three-day train ride to Berkeley to appear at the 1961 Berkeley Folk Festival, along with Pete Seeger and Jean Ritchie.

Kirkus Reviews reported that Mance Lipscomb “caus[ed] mass catharsis among 41,000 [sic] listeners when he played ‘Motherless Children’ in Berkeley–ending his first-ever concert after just three songs.” (The audience actually was 4,100; Lipscomb substitutes “thousand” for “hundred” in his narratives. Glen Alyn quotes Lipscomb as saying he played four, not three, songs.) In addition to his renown musicianship, Lipscomb was an accomplished storyteller in the African Anansi (corrupted to “Aunt Nancy”) tribal tradition.

Arhoolie’s “Texas Songster” CD includes of the original 1960 tracks from Arhoolie 1001, plus additional tracks recorded in 1964. “Captain Captain: Texas Songster Vol. 3” includes unreleased works from the 1960 Navasota session, plus several tracks recorded in Berkeley in 1996.

Lipscomb suffered a stroke and double-pneumonia in January, 1974, and died January 30, 1976 at the age of 81. The July 1997 issue of Texas Monthly offers a brief biography of Mance Lipscomb by Chester Rosson, author of the “Texas Music Source” columns. (Rosson’s “Juneteenth” column in the Texas Monthly claims that Juneteenth “is no longer the universal celebration it once was,” at least in Texas.)

Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins (b. March 15, 1912, Centerville, Texas) was the inspiration for Chris Strachwitz’s 1960 trip to South Texas. Strachwitz intended to record Lightnin’, who was in California at the time, so he tracked down Mance Lipscomb as an alternate. Sam gained his nickname in the 1930s when he joined with piano player “Thunder” Smith to play the Houston club circuit. Hopkins, whose guitar style was influenced primarily by Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson, recorded for a number of regional labels from 1946 through the 1950s, including Houston’s Gold Star. Arhoolie’s two-volume reissue of the Gold Star tracks is considered by most fans as quintessential Lightnin’. Hopkins was a master storyteller and song writer; he improvised to the point where no two performances of his songs were the same. The “folk-blues revival” of the mid- to late-1960s brought Hopkins back into the musical mainstream of the period, with appearances at the 1960 Berkeley Folk Festival, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead concerts, two performances at Carnegie Hall, plus American and European Tours. In the late 1960s, Hopkins recorded with Barbara Dane (electric and acoustic guitars, respectively) live at Berkeley’s Cabale coffeehouse (Telegraph and Haste) and cut an additional 16 studio tracks for Arhoolie in a 1969 Berkeley session. imageLightnin’ Hopkins at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, 1974 (Photo by Michael P. Smith from Meeting the Blues: The Rise of the Texas Sound by Alan Govenor)

Hopkins died of throat cancer on January 30, 1982, two years after being inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame. Texas Monthly also carries a brief Hopkins biography in its January, 1998 issue.

Bibliography, Multiple Artists

Meeting the Blues: The Rise of the Texas Sound by Alan B. Govenar (1995, Da Capo Press, ISBN 030680641X) is a profusely-illustrated, large-format paperback that includes a substantial number of first-person interviews from Living Blues magazine. (See especially “The Move to California” chapter.)

Texas Blues Guitar,” is an anthology of performances by Albert Collins, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Freddie King and Mance Lipscomb (VHS tape distributed by Vestapol Video.)

The archives of the Berkeley Folk Festival are located at the Northwestern University Library (Evanston campus) in the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections. Barry Olivier collected over 30,000 items housed in 69 boxes. According to the Library, the collection includes “photographs of over two hundred folk artists and groups, general photographs of Berkeley Folk Festivals from 1957 – 1970, tapes, press clippings, correspondence, publicity information on various folk artists, festival programs from 1958 – 1970, the festival’s operating files, posters of performers, and posters and flyers of most of the festivals held during this period.” Barry’s essay on the history of folk music at Berkeley from 1956 to 1970 is included in the collection’s register. The McCormick Library also has an archive of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. (It’s unfortunate that UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library didn’t see fit to acquire and house these collections.)

Bibliography, Mance Lipscomb

imageI Say Me for a Parable : The Oral Autobiography of Mance Lipscomb, Texas Bluesman by Glen Alyn (1995, Da Capo Press, ISBN 030680610X)

Mance Lipscomb: Fight, Flight or the Blues,” by Glen Alyn, from Juneteenth Texas: Essays in African-American Folklore, Francis E. Abernethy, et al., editors (1996, University of North Texas Press, ISBN 1-57441-018-0)

Mance Lipscomb in Concert” (VHS tape of a 1969 television concert distributed by Vestapol Videos

Bibliography, Lightnin’ Hopkins

imageDeep Down Hard Blues: Tribute to Lightnin’ by Sarah Ann West (1995, Brunswick Publishing Co., ISBN 1556181507)

Lightnin’ Hopkins: Blues Bard of the Third Ward” by John Wheat, from Juneteenth Texas: Essays in African-American Folklore, Francis E. Abernethy, et al., editors (1996, University of North Texas Press, ISBN 1-57441-018-0)

imageThe Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins,” a 1969 film by Les Blank (VHS tape distributed by Flower Films)

Lightnin’ Hopkins: Rare Performances 1960 – 1979,” a potpourri of performances in Houston, Seattle, and Austin (VHS tape distributed by Vestapol Videos)

1950s R&B

Leo Sacks’ Texas Soul, a New York Times review of The Early Years of Rhythm and Blues: The Photography of Benny Joseph by Alan B. Govenar (1990, Rice University Press, out of print) makes the major statement on the influence of Houston musicians on R&B: “In the early 1950′s, when Houston was the home of this country’s most vital rhythm-and-blues scene, Benny Joseph was hired by Don Robey to photograph the rising stars of his two record labels, Duke and Peacock. Artists such as Bobby (Blue) Bland, Clarence (Gatemouth) Brown, Johnny Ace and Junior Parker (whose ‘Mystery Train’ inspired a young Elvis Presley) were making a new kind of Southern blues that would strongly influence subsequent pop, soul and gospel sounds.”

T-Bone Walker (b. May 28, 1910, Linden, Texas) brought the electric guitar sound to traditional, acoustic blues. Linden is in northeast Texas and Walker called the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas his home (he was known as “Oak Cliff Walker” at one point), so it’s a stretch to call him a southeast Texas musician. Walker was a major influence on guitarists of the 1950s and later, including Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughn, as well as innumerable other players. According to Big Brother’s Sam Andrew, “We did the ‘dirty bop’ to Jimmy Reed and T-Bone Walker while teenagers in other parts of town listened to Johnny Mathis. Texas blues permeated towns like San Antonio, Houston and Port Arthur. This wonderful music was subversive in a way that Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggert could never imagine. The blues helped us understand what the big men never knew.” Walker made his first Bay Area appearance at the the 1970 Berkeley Blues Festival. imageCourtesy: Wikipedia

Chester Rosson says of T-Bone Walker in the June 1997 Texas Monthly: “In his ground-breaking book on Texas musicians, Texas Rhythm, Texas Rhyme [out of print], Willoughby Williams says flat out: ‘T-Bone Walker was the most important and influential musician in the history of rhythm and blues, and perhaps in the history of all its derivative styles, including rock ‘n’ roll.’ He credits Walker with combining advanced technique on electric guitar with the standard blues combo of tenor sax, string bass and piano to produce the accepted format for R&B. Walker’s electrifying performance style also provided a model for the high-energy rock ‘n’ roll stage style that emerged in the fifties and forever changed American pop music.”

Robert Palmer describes Walker’s style in the original The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock ‘n’ Roll: “[B]y using his amplifier’s volume control to sustain pitches and combining this technique with the string-bending and finger vibrato practiced by traditional bluesmen, Walker in effect invented a new instrument. In addition he developed a chordal style on fast numbers, a pumping guitar shuffle that led eventually to the archetypal rock ‘n ‘roll guitar style of Chuck Berry.”

T-Bone Walker died March 16, 1975 as the result of a severe stroke suffered in 1974. Click here for an extensive T-Bone Walker biography, bibliography, and a brief discography.

Bibliography: Stormy Monday: The T-Bone Walker Story by Helen Oakley Dance, (1990, Da Capo Press, ISBN 0-306-80413-1)


Lorenzo Thomas, in “From Gumbo to Grammys: The Development of Zydeco Music in Houston,” defines zydeco as the “dance music of African-American creoles in southwestern Louisiana.” A Houston folklorist, Mack MacCormick, attributes the term “zydeco” (also spelled “zodico,”earlier called “la la music”) to a phonetic contraction of “Les Haricots[--Pas Sales]” (“Snapbeans — No Salt”), the name of a traditional Cajun tune, also known as “Zydeco et Pas Sale.” The most distinctive difference between Cajun and zydeco music is zydeco’s substitution of African percussion in the form of a frottoir (rubboard) for the traditional Cajun triangle. Since the 1950s, the most popular zydeco musicians have added R&B overtones to the traditional zydeco style.

The armament demands of World War II resulted in a migration of both black and white inhabitants of southwestern Louisiana to the shipyards and oil refineries of the Gulf Coast and Bay Area (see the note at the bottom of the page.) Houston and Port Arthur, as well as Richmond and Oakland, gained a large population of Louisiana expatriates. Houston’s Fifth Ward, called “Frenchtown,” in the 1950s and 1960s became a major venue for zydeco trios, consisting of accordion, drums, and frottoir, later augmented with guitar and saxophone.  Clifton Chenier and his Red Hot Louisiana Band made regular weekly appearances at dances held in the parish hall of St. Francis of Assisi Church. (Clarence Garlow, another well-known Houston zydeco player and occasional club owner, launched the St. Francis events to pay down the parish’s $250,000 debt.)  Chenier also is closely associated with the East Bay’s “zydeco renaissance” of the 1960s and 1970s.

Born on a farm near Opelousas, Louisiana, on June 25, 1925, Chenier moved to Port Arthur, Texas, in 1947 and worked in the Gulf and Texaco refineries; he and his wife moved to Houston in 1958. Chenier’s ascendancy to “King of Zydeco” came about through his introduction by Lightnin’ Hopkins to Chris Strachwitz. (Chenier was a cousin of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ wife.) First issued on vinyl in the mid-1960s, “Louisiana Blues and Zydeco” (Arhoolie 1024, recorded in Houston in 1965), “Black Snake Blues” (Arhoolie 1038, recorded in Berkeley in 1967), “Live” (Arhoolie 1059, recorded at St. Marks Hall, Richmond, in 1971,) and “Out West” (Arhoolie 1072, recorded in San Francisco in 1971) made Chenier’s music available to an international audience. It’s a likely bet, however, that the major markets for Chenier’s R&B-influenced zydeco style remain the Texas Gulf, southwest Louisiana, and the Bay Area. In addition to the now-famous St. Marks Hall dances, he also performed at the Avalon Ballroom and the 1982 San Francisco Blues Festival. Chenier died on December 12, 1987; his son C. L Chenier now leads the Red Hot Louisiana Band. Photo of Clifton Chenier at St. Mark’s courtesy of Arhoolie Records.

Clifton Chenier

imageCourtesy of

imageBibliography: Let the Good Times Roll: A Guide to Cajun & Zydeco Music by Pat Nyhan, et al. (1998, Upbeat Books, ISBN 0965823202)

From Gumbo to Grammys: The Development of Zydeco Music in Houston” by Lorenzo Thomas, from Juneteenth Texas: Essays in African-American Folklore, Francis E. Abernethy, et al., editors (1996, University of North Texas Press, ISBN 1-57441-018-0)

Clifton Chenier, the King of Zydeco,” a 1987 film produced and directed by Chris Strachwitz (55-minute VHS videotape distributed by Les Blank’s Flower Films.)

Sidelight: Migration from the South to the East Bay in the 1940s

imageGretchen Lemke-Santangelo’s Abiding Courage : African American Migrant Women and the East Bay Community (1996, University of North Carolina Press, ISBN 0807845639) traces the migration of African-American families from the rural south to the East Bay during World War II. The book details the challenges faced by women in establishing new homes and raising families while working in local shipyards and other war-related enterprises. Alexandra Tillman-Jennings’ 98-year-old mother, Ethel Tillman, who made the trip from Mississippi to Vallejo in 1942 and later moved to Berkeley, plays an important role in the book. (Alexandra was the business manager of Chump Change Records.)

In 1998, Ethel Tillman featured in one of Belva Davis’s “Bay Area Close-Up” reports for KRON-TV. Chump Change provided much of the video content for the segment. An update of the Ethel Tillman interview recently ran on Bay-TV’s “Close-Up with Belva Davis.”

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