Few people today, however, know that Marshall also has a very strong claim to being the birthplace of the popular and distinctive brand of American music called "Boogie Woogie." That civic distinction will not long remain unknown if a group of Texans led by Dr. John Tennison and composed of Boogie Woogie fans, along with various Harrison County residents, have their way. They are hatching big plans to insure that Marshall achieves what they believe to be its rightful recognition as the place where Boogie Woogie got its start.
Music historians have long known that the piney woods and forests of east Texas produced in the late nineteenth century the rhythms that emerged as Boogie Woogie. Atlhough not popular nationally and internationally until the 1940s, the various musical lines and rhythms that constitute this style of music run much deeper into the past here in Texas. Among many other early musicians, Lead Belly, for example, played music with a Boogie Woogie bass line in the decades after World War One. In some musical quarters, U.S. Highway 59, which runs across east Texas from Houston to Texarkana, is known as the "Boogie Woogie" highway.
Dr. John Tennison, a San Antonio physician and Boogie Woogie authority, has spent a considerable amount of time and effort over the years researching the history of this music. He has concluded that Marshall, Texas was the exact place and very real location where Boogie Woogie first came into existence, largely due to the town's location as an important railroad center in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Texas musicians who crafted these rhythms, almost all of them African-American, regularly passed through Marshall and the town became their common ground.
Dr. Tennison has not, however, rested on the laurels of his music history research. In May of 2010, the Marshall City Commission, based on information compiled and presented by Dr. Tennison, passed a resolution officially declaring the town to be the historical birthplace of Boogie Woogie. That resolution has created a flurry of civic activity in recent months as Marshall residents, along with Boogie Woogie enthusiasts from all parts of the nation, have been engaging in an ever-expanding series of activities designed to rebrand the town as the Birthplace of Boogie Woogie. There is a now Facebook page that has attracted hundred of members.
Several weeks ago Omar Sharriff gave a special Boogie Woogie Christmas concert to another packed house of people who had come to Marshall from far and wide to hear his music. Boogie Woogie legends Bob Seeley and Bob Baldori joined him for this concert. A local Marshall restaurant is now sponsoring a regular once-a-week evening of live music billed as "Boogie Woogie Wednesdays." And, just this week, National Public Radio aired a special feature highlighting Marshall as the birthplace of Boogie Woogie. The Dallas Morning News has also brought Marshall's newly discovered musical history to the attention of its readers.
To learn more about all of this, see:
The Facebook Page Marshall, Texas The Birthplace of Boogie Woogie
Two webpages of Dr. John Tennison: The History of Boogie Woogie and The Boogie Woogie Foundation.
A portion of Omar Sharriff's Christmas 2010 concert on You Tube.
Listen to the NPR Broadcast on Marshall as the Birthplace of Boogie Woogie.