Finding a Family Legend or a Sly Stone Story

Working in the Special Collections research area can lead to its own set of frustrations and rewards. Sometimes when people contact us they have run up against a “brick wall” while researching their family history.  They have exhausted all their known resources and have reached out to contact libraries and other organizations in the area where their ancestor lived, hoping for help finding more information.  From time to time we are unable to help them. Even though we have checked every resource we have access to – newspapers, birth and death records, land records, local histories, city directories, family histories, census records, and more – we just cannot find any trace of the person in question. (As you might imagine this is really frustrating; it is amazing the number of people who just disappear off the face of the Earth.)  Then there are times that all the pieces fall into place and we are able to find that missing bit of information that helps make the connection.

One such instance happened this spring. I was contacted by Kierra Benson, a UNT student, who needed help verifying a family legend. She said she was going to use it as the basis for a podcast. I was a little unsure about her request at first because family legends are a funny thing. Many times they are based on fact, but occasionally they are proved false, which may, or may not, cause more than a little consternation in a family.  In her own words, here is a description of Kierra’s research into her family legend:

“I am currently a senior at the University of North Texas at Dallas in pursuit of a bachelors in Communication and Technology. This past semester, in one of my classes I was assigned to create a podcast on a subject that interested me. After considering a few other topics for my podcast, one question lingered in the back of my head for years. That question was based on a claim that my grandfather made about famous funk singer Sly Stone being related to our family. I had always had my doubts about my grandfather’s claim, so I decided to use this project as an opportunity to verify (or debunk) this claim once and for all. With the help of professional genealogist Laura Douglas and past accounts from my grandfather, I pieced together information about my family history and Sly Stone’s family history to see if there is a true connection.”

Was there a connection? Did her family legend prove true? You can listen to her podcast here.

Helping Kierra with her research was one of those rewarding experiences that makes working in Special Collections so much fun. Do you have a “brick wall” or a family legend you would like help with? Email us at and let’s see what we can help you find.

Oh yeah, if you are in the mood for a little funk from a Dentonite, here’s some of the albums you can check out from the library:


Laura Douglas
Emily Fowler Central Library


In The Weeds 2.11.16 Ray Peterson

This might be a good subject for Denton-centric Trivia Night at a local pub. While doing research in the Denton Record-Chronicle about someone completely unrelated, I happened upon this front page story from 1961. By that time, Ray Peterson had several hits on the pop music charts including two in the Top 10 and was heading home to his family and birthplace in Denton for a belated Christmas reunion. He was born here on April 23, 1939 but apparently didn’t spend very much time in town, growing up in San Antonio. He had contracted polio as a child and, during his stay in the hospital in The Alamo City, sang for his fellow patients and thus began his musical career. The article states that his family lived on Panhandle Street and had recently moved back to his mother’s native Denton. By that time, however, he was performing at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas and touring the country.

Here he is looking rather Bobby Darin-ish:


So, the question is, why isn’t he better known in town? It’s true he really never lived here other than maybe his first couple years but, in that way, he resembles Sly Stone. Could it be the lack of local press? Searching the DR-C, I only find the article above and some Top 10 lists from the early 1960s mentioning him. Sly Stone went on to greater fame so maybe that prompted us to call him our own when he really barely is, as well.

One of his greatest hits was a morbid, schmalzy thing called “Tell Laura I Love Her” which recounts a doomed teenage romance involving stock car racing (really) and a $1000.00 prize. Here it is. There was quite a market for this genre of songs in the late-50s, early ’60s known as “teenage tragedy songs”, “death discs”, and my personal favorite,“splatter platters”. Elvis Presley covered one of his songs in the late 1960s, The Wonder of You, doing Ray the courtesy of asking him in advance if that would be OK. One thing no one could ever say about The King was that he wasn’t a gentleman. Elvis probably didn’t have to do this because Ray didn’t write the song nor did he likely own the rights to it but  professional courtesy was extended and they became friends.

Mr. Peterson eventually became a Baptist minister in the 1970s while also appearing on the oldies circuit. He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and died in Memphis in 2005.

Written by Chuck Voellinger, Emily Fowler Library.




At The Cut

I’ve lived in Denton for about five years. Music was my original reason for moving to Denton. Don Henley, Nora Jones, Roy Orbison and Meat Loaf have roamed University of North Texas or North Texas State University’s (as you may know it) hallways at one time or another. Funk legend Sly Stone was born in Denton and UNT’s one a clock lab band has won several Grammys. Needless to say this environment harvests an abundance of creative energy.

In my late teens I traveled from Dallas to Denton more times than I can count to see some of my favorite bands. One of the places that housed such acts was Hailey’s club. Last week owner of Hailey’s, Jennifer Gibbs, announced its closing its doors at the end of the year and open up a non-music related venture.

Vic Chesnutt was one of many that graced the Hailey’s stage. Chesnutt was a quadriplegic gifted with an uncanny ability to craft songs with incredible depth despite being able to play a very limited number of chords. Although not a house hold name you may have seen Chesnutt in Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade.

Recently a memoir commemorating Chesnutt was published its entitled “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving up Vic Chesnutt” it chronicles Chesnutt through highs and lows, written by one of his touring band members and close friend Kristin Hersh. Seeing this book in the library I naturally gravitated towards it and was pleasantly surprised of how insightful it was at grasping the characteristics of a man dealing with struggles mentally and physically. Although unknown to most Chesnutt was an influence to many singers and songwriters. In 2006 NPR dubbed Chesnutt as one of the top ten greatest living songwriters alongside artists like Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen.

Below are a few items available for check out at the Denton Public Library by or about Vic Chesnutt including the book mentioned above and a CD entitled “At the Cut”.



This video was recorded at Hailey’s and was the second to last live performance by Chesnutt before his death in 2009.

Abdon Gonzalez
Library Assistant- Public Services
Emily Fowler Public Library

Guitars, Cadillacs, and Hillbilly Music

I often wake up with a song in my head. This can be a good thing; today it is. This morning’s earworm is Dwight Yoakam’s, Guitars and Cadillacs, running through my head. Since it will not vacate the premises, here it is for your enjoyment. I hope it worms its way into your ear, as well.

Here are few good things now available at your local library to enjoy while Ol’ Leather Pants’ song is reverberating in your noggin.

Rock on, y’all!

William James Smith











Miss Emily’s JukeJoint, 12.8.11: Herschel Evans

    In the late 1930’s, the Count Basie Orchestra featured two tenor saxophonists: Lester Young and Herschel Evans of Denton. Books, movies and thousands of words have, rightfully, been dedicated to the former. Only a true jazz geek knows of the latter. Herschel was born in Denton on March 9, 1909,  and is found at our database in the 1930 Census where he appears to be living with an aunt in Bexar County, Texas (San Antonio) while working in the Troy Floyd Orchestra. Click on image below for larger size:

Herschel in San Antone, 1930

           In the census record you can see three important pieces of information that prove this is the same Mr. Evans: 21 years of age, Negro, and musician employed in an orchestra. Here is an early recording with Floyd from 1929, Dreamland Blues. His solo starts @ 1:58.

Lady Hersch

  There is a storied Texas Tenor saxophonist tradition going back to Herschel and on through to Buddy Tate, Illinois Jacquet, Arnett Cobb, David “Fathead” Newman, King Curtis, Donald Wilkerson, Booker Ervin, James Clay, Marchel Ivery, on up to UNT alum Shelley Carrol who performs regularly in Dallas. The thread that runs through all of them is a full-bodied tone that always has a blues flavor.

  By the mid-’30s, he was working in Kansas City and landed a seat in the Count Basie Orchestra when they expanded their size after being signed to Decca Records in 1936. In the Basie band, he finally achieved fame through the following recordings (with time his solos start): One O’ Clock Jump 00:45, Doggin’ Around 00:40, Texas Shuffle 1:56 and his most famous solo performance, Blue and Sentimental.

In the Basie reed section


Herschel on left with fellow Basie-ite, Buck Clayton











        Herschel died at age 29 in 1939 of a heart attack and was replaced in the Basie band by fellow Texan, Buddy Tate. It was said that Lester mourned his section mate, paid his funeral expenses, and Evans’ passing may have helped precipitate his leaving Basie the next year. Here is footage of the Count Basie Orchestra at Randall’s Island in New York City in 1938. The music on the video is overdubbed but, at 1:41, you can see him sitting down with his sax to the right of singer Jimmy Rushing who is standing.

posted by Chuck.

Miss Emily’s JukeJoint, 11.9.2010. Shiny Around Denton; New Titles

   Shiny Around The Edges is a Denton-based trio consisting of Michael and Jennifer Seman and “Kermatron” (if someone knows his real name, please pass it on, although I’m actually quite fond of “Kermatron”). We have some of their music at DPL but we don’t yet have “Denton’s Dreaming”-the latest release. Here’s a pic:

Shiny Denton Porch


     Here’s some YouTube goodness. Listening to this music reminds me of 20+ years ago and the experimental sounds of bands that are long gone from Denton and The Argo days of not-so-long ago. What they do just sounds particularly “Denton” to these ears. Melodic, loud, experimental, spacial, improvisational. I don’t know, but, if I had moved away from here, heard them and then found out they were from Denton, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

New Titles in at the Fowler Branch (click on link for title in catalog)-

Grinderman- Grinderman 2

Frazey Ford- Obadiah

For Today-Breaker

Armin Van Buuren-Mirage

Bad City-Welcome To The Wasteland

Lucky Peterson-You Can Always Trun Around

Now That’s What I Call Country-Vol. 3

Pedro Fernandez-Ha$ta Que El Dinero Nos Separe

Ronnie Earl-Spread The Love

Rieleros Del Norte-Ni El Diablo Te Va A Querer

Posted by Chuck

Miss Emily’s JukeJoint, 8.3.10 Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music

I’m excited about this, y’all. This will be a long blog post, so bear with me please.

 We have a copy of Harry Smith’s  Anthology of American Folk Music on Smithsonian Folkways records. This is the first extensive collection of folk music in the U.S. and was edited-created by record collector Harry Smith for Moe Asch’s Folkways label in 1952. More on Harry in a bit…

The Anthology

    Smithsonian/Folkways re-released this collection as a 3 CD set in 1997 and has a reproduction of Harry’s original handmade booklet along with extensive essays and an up-to-date description of the artists and songs that builds upon 45 years of research. All of these items are included in the Denton Public Library’s copy for you.

    In it you will feast your ears on an auditory world that is long gone but yet somehow familiar. This Anthology influenced many in the so-called “folk revival” of the late ’50s-early ’60s. The tunes and some of  the artists themselves have had their own massive impact separate from their inclusion in it: The Carter Family, Charley Patton, Dock Boggs, Charlie Poole, Clarence Ashley, Blind Willie Johnson, etc. in the realms of Bluegrass, Blues, Hillbilly, C&W, etc.

Charlie Poole

  Here’s a few examples to whet your earlobes-

Not merely a collection of a particular genre or style, the Anthology includes Cajun, Black Gospel, Sacred, and some performances that don’t fall neatly in a particular heading. Take Hoyt Ming and His Pep-Steppers’ “Indian War Whoop”. Not really sounding like Native-American singing per se, it moves nonetheless.

    Fiddler Eck Robertson is recognized as the first commercially recorded  “country” musician for his performance of “Sally Gooden” in 1922. Although not included here, that disc is still considered a masterpiece of old-time fiddling and not easily duplicated 88 years on.


     Jug bands were intensely popular in the period covered in the Anthology (late’20s-early ’30s), and Cannon’s Jug Stompers swung hard.

Cannon's Jug Stompers

     Finally, native Texan Blind Willie Johnson sang hellfire and brimstone with a voice that sounded like he came back from Hades to warn the world. Oh, and his slide guitar accompaniment influenced Ry Cooder, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, etc. 

Blind Willie Johnson

     Harry Smith ( was a filmmaker, artist, musicologist, intellectual, autodidact, and eccentric who had contacted Moe Asch, founder of Folkways Records in NYC (, about putting this compilation togther. He finally received a Grammy Award late in life for this Anthology but, tellingly, this quote at the ceremony speaks to how personal the project was for him, “”I’m glad to say my dreams came true. I saw America changed by music.”

Harry framed

Here’s the Anthology in our catalog: