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This Week in Texas Music History: Hersal Thomas

Art&Seek presents This Week in Texas Music History. Every week, we’ll spotlight a different moment and the musician who made it. This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll learn about a piano player who fit a lifetime of jazz into only 16 years.

You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on Sunday at precisely 6:04 p.m. on KERA radio. But subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. And our thanks to KUT public radio in Austin for helping us bring this segment to you. And if you’re a music lover, be sure to check out Track by Track, the podcast from Paul Slavens, host of KXT’s The Paul Slavens Show, heard Sunday night’s at 8.

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On July 3, 1926, Hersal Thomas died of food poisoning. Born in Houston in 1910, he learned piano from his brother George, a pioneer of the popular boogie-woogie style. Hersal Thomas first performed on the streets of Houston, accompanying his sister, Sippie Wallace, one of the most influential blues singers ever to come from Texas. By 1923, Hersal Thomas had moved to Chicago and was touring with King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. In 1925, at the age of only 15, he recorded several songs, including “Suitcase Blues.”

Hersal Thomas’s death at the age of 16 brought a tragic end to his brief but prolific career. However, his legacy lives on through countless other piano players who have borrowed from Thomas’s innovative style.

Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll meet a creature that terrorized Fort Worth but inspired many local garage rockers.