Art&Seek presents This Week in Texas Music History. Every week, we’ll spotlight a different moment and the musician who made it. For the week of Aug. 31, Texas music scholar Gary Hartman takes a look at Charline Arthur, who blazed a trail for gender equality in music.
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And if you’re a music lover, be sure to check out Track by Track, the bi-weekly podcast from Paul Slavens, host of KERA radio’s 90.1 at Night.
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This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll look at a singer who was born in a railroad boxcar but went on to tour with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Charline Arthur was born Charline Highsmith on September 2, 1929, in a railroad boxcar near Henrietta, Texas. At the age of 12, she had written her first song, “I’ve Got the Boogie Blues.” By the age of 15, she had her own radio show in Paris, Texas. Charline Arthur was a versatile musician who sang country, blues and boogie-woogie. She also played guitar, fiddle, mandolin and banjo. By the 1950s, Arthur was performing on the popular Dallas-based radio program, the Big “D” Jamboree. She also toured with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis on the famous Louisiana Hayride. Charline Arthur rebelled against the prevailing image of women in country music as demure and “ladylike.” Instead, she wore pants while performing, pranced and strutted across the stage and sometimes sang sexually suggestive lyrics. RCA Records eventually dropped Arthur because she refused to conform to the label’s notion of a “prim and proper” lady. Nevertheless, Charline Arthur is now widely regarded as a champion for gender equality in the music industry and as a pioneer in fusing country with boogie-woogie to help create rockabilly. Next time on This Week in Texas Music History we’ll meet the “other” King of Western Swing.