Back When … Honoring Algernon “Texas” Alexander: A Father of Texas Blues
On Aug. 12, 2016, the Montgomery County Historical Commission honored Algernon “Texas” Alexander, who was one of the most influential figures of the early Texas Blues movement. His pioneering contributions as a singer and writer to the evolution of the blues is recognized as a significant chapter in the history of popular song. Alexander taught the blues to many original blues greats, including his cousin Sam “Lightning Hopkins” and guitarist Lowell Fulson.
Alexander was born into poverty in Jewett, Texas on Sept. 12, 1900. A short, very stout man, he did menial labor to survive, inlcuding working in the cotton fields and as a railroad laborer. He learned the blues singing with fellow African Americans in the fields. Alexander’s tenor voice and his feel for the genre made him a popular singer at local gatherings. He toured in between railroad jobs with Blind Lemon Jefferson or Hopkins. Alexander often performed in Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood, a hotbed for jazz and blues in the 1920s. He didn’t play an instrument, but carried a guitar and would pay a local musician to play with him. He played with some of the top jazz musicians of the time, especially guitarist Lonnie Johnson whose guitar solos on Alexander’s records are legendary.
Sammy Price, a blues and boogie-woogie pianist of the times, discovered Alexander around 1925; Alexander soon had a recording contract with Okeh records in New York. Proud of his Lone Star heritage, he recorded under the name “Texas” Alexander. From 1927 to 1934, he made 69 recordings for Okeh and Vocalion records. In 1934 Alexander recorded “Frost, Texas Tornado Blues” with The Mississippi Sheiks. During this period Alexander was known as one of the top blues vocalists in America.
After 1934, he returned to Texas to play Deep Ellum and the Texas African American juke joints and bars. According to Hopkins, he and Alexander would often hop a bus and at each stop start playing. Alexander’s vocal style and Hopkins’ guitar playing would attract a crowd. Afterwards, they would pass the hat and be on to the next town.
In 1939 Alexander heard a young Lowell Fulson performing at a barn dance in Ada, Oklahoma. Fulson would become one of the top blues guitarists of his era. Fulson was offered 10 dollars a day to join Alexander and another Texas blues legend, Bessie Tucker, on a tour of West Texas.
In the late 1940s, Alexander went to Houston with Hopkins where they performed on street corners, in juke joints and on railroad platforms. In 1946 Aladdin Records heard Hopkins and Alexander performing and signed Hopkins to a contract. Alexander returned to Richards, Texas. His last recording session was with Benton’s Busy Bees in Houston in 1950.
After becoming ill, Alexander moved in with his grandmother in Richards. Broke and forgotten, locals said he could hardly walk before his death at age 53. Nearly forgotten today, Alexander would die in obscurity in Richards on April 16, 1954 and was buried in an unmarked grave. No local paper ran an obituary. No marker was laid at his grave.
In the past years, the location of his grave was established and verified to be in the Longstreet Cemetery in Montgomery County near the Grimes County line. Friends and blues enthusiasts have since placed a granite headstone on his grave. They have also sponsored the Montgomery County Historical Commission Historic Marker to be placed at his gravesite. Alexander and his fellow “Fathers of the Blues” developed powerful music that helped break down barriers that had once divided our nation by race.
The Montgomery County Historical Commission provides the content for this page.
For information on the commission and its efforts, visit montgomerycountyhistoricalcommission.com
Algernon “Texas” Alexander