Houston has hip-hop, New Orleans has jazz, the Delta has the blues. What about San Antonio?
The South Texas Museum of Popular Culture is celebrating its role in the national songbook this weekend, launching an exhibition commemorating the 80th anniversary of the San Antonio recordings of blues legend Robert Johnson.
Margaret Moser, co-founder of the museum, says in 1936, recorded music had been around for less than forty years and the rise of radio, a cheap form of entertainment during the Great Depression, had fueled many different genres of music. She says Robert Johnson’s Texas recordings are among the “most essential chapters of American history.”
“They bring together music at a time when things are changing so dramatically,” Moser says. “Because Robert Johnson’s two recording sessions also anchor his rise as a musician too.”
In November 1936, he recorded 16 tracks and from those recordings, “Terraplane Blues” sold well enough that he became an even bigger name among blues players. His label decides to bring him to Dallas to record more music.
Though it’s disputed at which hotel in San Antonio he recorded, the Gunter Hotel had a full recording studio built for live audiences to listen to musicians while they’re recording, Moser says. Some people around San Antonio hotels say that his recordings could have taken place at a different hotel, like the Bluebonnet Hotel or the Texas Hotel.
“Back in the ’30s particularly, hotels were a gathering place for people,” she says. “They often had ballrooms and they would bring in the bands so local radio stations would come in and broadcast it to people who weren’t there…. My ultimate conclusion is that it’s quite possible that Robert Johnson recorded in all those places.”
Details of Johnson’s life have always been swirled in mystery – did he sell his soul to the devil? What happened at the crossroads in Mississippi? – but Moser says among the biggest questions about his life is how he died.
“What he murdered? What he stabbed? What he poisoned?” she says. “Most likely poisoned… Could it be the fact that he has three graves that makes it difficult for us?”
His three grave sites, spread across Mississippi only fuel the intrigue.
Post by Hannah McBride.