Four-part series to bring history of Western Swing to life in March
Published on February 28, 2022
Maybe it helps that Ginny Mac grew up in the city credited as the birthplace of Western Swing music. Whatever the reason, her love of the sound happened early and hasn’t faded.
But first, she got hooked on a particular instrument.
“When I was 6 years old, a man played accordion at my elementary school for an assembly,” Mac said. “I was intrigued! When my parents asked what I wanted for my birthday that summer, I told them I wanted an accordion. So they rolled with the odd request, and I've never put it down since.”
Her love for Western Swing came six years later, seemingly by chance.
“My background is in classical music, but one day my Nana and I were walking through the Stockyards and came across a group of musicians playing western and cowboy music,” she said. “They were the Cowtown Opry, a nonprofit organization, and they had a musical mentorship program for kids. I immediately signed up! I was 12 years old, and that was my introduction to Western Swing and western heritage music.”
Mac has since recorded four albums and toured extensively as a professional musician. In addition to her solo work, she is a former member of local favorite Brave Combo.
Musical history lessons
In March, Mac will bring her love of Western Swing and her experience as a performer to reprise a History of Western Swing course she taught in Summer 2019 through TCU’s Summer Extended Education program. There will be four sessions at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, March 8, 15, 22 and 29, all at the Fort Worth Public Library’s Central location. The classes are free and open to the public.
The presentation won’t be simply a lecture. Mac is bringing fellow professional musicians into the mix to demonstrate aspects of the music live and in person for the audience.
“We could talk about the music all day long, or play some great old 78 records. But nothing beats getting to experience the sounds and passion of this music in person,” Mac said. “I am very excited to show participants this musical style, especially for folks who may have never heard it before.”
Credit to the early development of Western Swing in the late 1920s and early 1930s goes to Milton Brown and Bob Wills, who performed together in the early 1930s under a few different names, including the Light Crust Dough Boys. Brown formed the very first Western Swing Band in Fort Worth, Milton Brown & The Musical Brownies. The genre was further spread and popularized by Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys. In 2011, Western Swing was designated as the official State Music of Texas.
Rita Alfaro, the Fort Worth Public Library’s Music Librarian, said swing and jazz music experienced an uprising in popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, which led to an evolution.
“This genre in particular really shows how regional music will adopt other genres and change throughout time while still keeping original roots,” Alfaro said. “Though it may be argued with historians and other academics, Western Swing originated here in Fort Worth.”
Alfaro notes that musicians of a growing number of genres have expanded Fort Worth’s musical identity, but the city still recognizes its Cowtown roots. “There are still musicians performing this style and venues that are showcasing these performers and this genre,” she said.
She said she hopes those who attend the series gain a deeper understanding of Western Swing’s history and roots in Fort Worth. Although a four-week course won’t allow discussion of all the history, there will be photos, songs and history of the musicians and venues who developed the sound.
“I love the rhythm of it,” Mac said. “Here you could be singing about the blues, but you can't help but hop on the dance floor and swing your cares away. It's an infectious, happy kind of music. It's also musically so interesting, and offers a chance to play jazzy licks.”
Of course, Western Swing is also an important thread in the fabric of Fort Worth.
“I hope that people will walk away as new fans of this special genre of music, especially because we live right here in its birthplace,” she said. “Fort Worth is the heart and soul of Western Swing.”
Alfaro said Mac will be taking participants on an adventure in Western Swing. “She’s a great ambassador for the genre, and a true gem out of Fort Worth,” she said. “This isn’t her first rodeo with the genre or her presentation, so I think people are going to have a lot of fun this month with the class.”