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Henry “Ragtime Texas” Thomas historical marker dedicated

Big Sandy Mayor Linda Baggett and Gilmer Mayor Tim Marshall attended the unveiling of Historical Marker #18UR02 Henry “Ragtime Texas” Thomas on Sunday Jan 21st at the Upshur, Wood County Line on Hwy 80.

Others in attendance were Carolyn Marshall, President of the Historic Upshur Museum; Rebacca Babcock, Professor at University of Texas Permian Basin; Gwen Jewett, Chair, Upshur County Historical Commission and several members of the Wood County Historical Commission.

A display about “Ragtime Texas” is in the Big Sandy Museum.

 

HENRY “RAGTIME TEXAS” THOMAS 

 THE POST-RECONSTRUCTION PERIOD IN THE SOUTH SAW MANY AFRICAN  AMERICANS MOVING IN SEARCH OF BETTER ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES. MANY  BECAME TRAVELING MUSICIANS OR ITINERANT SONGSTERS WHO PERFORMED  A VARIETY OF GENRES ON STREET CORNERS TO PASSING AUDIENCES. ONE  SUCH PERFORMER WAS HENRY “RAGTIME TEXAS” THOMAS. HE WAS BORN IN  1874 TO SHARECROPPERS ON A FARM IN BIG SANDY. HIS HOMETOWN,  ORIGINALLY REFERRED TO AS BIG SANDY SWITCH, ORIGINATED ALONG THE TEXAS & PACIFIC RAILROAD. HENRY USED THE RAILROAD TO ESCAPE THE LIFE  OF FARM WORK AROUND 1890 TO BEGIN HIS MUSICAL CAREER. 

THOMAS RODE ALONG THE TEXAS & PACIFIC AND MISSOURI-KANSAS-TEXAS  (KATY) RAIL LINES AND MADE A LIVING SINGING AND PLAYING THE QUILLS, A  TYPE OF AMERICAN PANPIPE. HE LATER TAUGHT HIMSELF GUITAR AND COULD  PLAY BOTH INSTRUMENTS SIMULTANEOUSLY. HIS SONG TEMPOS OFTEN  MIMICKED THE BEAT AND SOUND OF A TRAIN MOVING ALONG A TRACK, WHILE 

QUILLS COULD IMITATE A TRAIN WHISTLE, REFLECTING THE RAILROAD’S  INFLUENCE IN HIS MUSIC. HIS MUSICAL PACING REFLECTED DANCE HALL TUNES OF THE PERIOD, EARNING THOMAS THE NICKNAME “RAGTIME TEXAS” FROM 

LISTENERS WHO HEARD SIMILARITIES BETWEEN HIM AND RAGTIME MUSIC. FROM 1927 TO 1929, THOMAS RECORDED 23 SONGS FOR VOCALION RECORDS. DRAWING FROM HIS TRAVELS, THOMAS INCORPORATED THE TRAIN ITINERARY  AND THE VAGABOND LIFESTYLE IN SONGS LIKE “RAILROADIN’ SOME” AND  “WHEN THE TRAIN COMES ALONG.” OTHER SONGS, LIKE “COTTONFIELD BLUES”  AND “FISHING BLUES,” PROVIDED A COMPELLING BRIDGE BETWEEN THE  AFRICAN AMERICAN SONGSTER STYLES OF THE 19TH CENTURY TO THE  DEVELOPMENT OF THE BLUES GENRE EARLY IN THE 20TH CENTURY. DETAILS  OF THOMAS’ LATER CAREER AND LIFE REMAIN A MYSTERY, BUT HIS INFLUENCE  ON MUSIC AND BANDS HAS BECOME HIS LEGACY. 

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