At the confluence of two small creeks on what will become the Arkansas/Texas state line it is quiet. There is the murmur of wind in the trees and trickling water, the twittering of birds, and deer rustling through the underbrush and nothing more. Long the home of Caddoan tribes little has changed for thousands of years. But in the distance there is suddenly a sound. A shrill sound at once mournful and uplifting accompanied by a rhythmic throb never before heard here. It is a steam engine, and with it comes African-American railroad workers and a rich history of complex rhythmic music that will take root in this area and spread throughout the world.
Within decades barrelhouse music born in sin but cleansed by great masters would become Boogie Woogie, Ragtime, jazz, blues and finally ascend the highest peaks of masterful composition and be compared to the greatest works of Bach.
The two creeks had Caddoan names, now lost. Today we know them as Swampoodle Creek and Nix Creek. “Swampoodle” would traverse the world as the name of one of the greatest Boogie Woogie bass figures of all time. The Boogie Woogie music that was born in the area around Marshall and spread to Texarkana would be heard and assimilated by a young man named Scott Joplin. He would combine that with the “ragged” music and barrelhouse of the common man with the disciplines learned under the tutelage of of an unknown “professor,” possibly German music teacher Julian Weiss or an unknown local educator, to create his vision of Ragtime, one of the few American genres of popular music to have rules. Also from Boogie Woogie would spring Rock n’ Roll which would spread throughout the world. And, in the 20th century, Conlon Nancarrow, son of the mayor of Texarkana, Arkansas would take his roots in the music of the Texarkana region to spend a life in near isolation creating what has become recognized in the past few decades as some of the most rhythmically complex music ever composed and take his place as one of the world’s great composers.
These are only the highlights and the depths have yet to be fully explored and brought to the light of day. Besides two of the most renowned composers in US and world history, this region birthed and nurtured many great names. Huddie William (Leadbelly) Ledbetter was born in Mooringsport, LA and lived in Shreveport, Harrison county, and Bowie county over the years. Also from Shreveport are Kix Brooks of Brooks and Dunn, Joshua Logan, producer of South Pacific and Mister Rogers was born in Texarkana and raised in Shreveport, Hank Williams, Jr. was born in Shreveport, and Faron Young as well. John Eargle, musical polymath who engineered many great recordings and was responsible for the THX sound systems of today’s theaters worked for Paul W. Klipsch as a young man. Paul Klipsch settled in Hope after serving in the Army there in WWII and established Klipsch and Associates. Skipping many and coming direct to today we have Don Henley, Linden native and founding member of the Eagles, and Otis Williams, founding member of the Temptations and too many more to list here. The Regional Music Heritage Center will take a leading role in musicological research, performance, and promotion of our area’s heritage to the world.