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News - The Wittliff Establishes Texas Music Collection

Willie Nelson's Songbook
Willie Nelson's songbook from age 11.

RELEASED September 8, 2017

SAN MARCOS, TX — The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University are proud to announce the creation of The Texas Music Collection, which joins the Southwestern Writers and Southwestern & Mexican Photography Collections as part of The Wittliff’s expanding mission to collect, preserve and share the cultural legacy of the region.

The Wittliff has obtained many important music collections over its thirty-year history, such as an extraordinary Willie Nelson archive that includes his hand-made childhood songbook; hand-written lyrics by Jerry Jeff Walker; a Western Swing treasury with a fiddle played by Bob Wills; and major research archives on artists ranging from Selena to Stevie Ray Vaughan.

“The Wittliff Collections tell the artistic story of Texas, and the music that comes from Texas has changed the world,” said Dr. David Coleman, director of The Wittliff. “Establishing the Texas Music Collection comes from something we’ve known all along—that music is a key driving force of Texas culture.”

The Wittliff now brings Texas music into the realm of its world-class literary and photography collections by acquiring large archives from major Texas artists across all Texas music cultures.

The Wittliff will make the new collection widely accessible through public exhibitions and events, and it will also be available for in-depth research to students, faculty, scholars, music fans and filmmakers.

“The Wittliff is committed to preserving and celebrating Texas music, and we are just as committed to making our materials accessible to students and other researchers, inspiring the next generation of Texas artists,” Coleman said.

“Texas Music is recognized worldwide as a crossroads of cultures and musical genres,” said Coleman, “The Wittliff will honor and collect the full range: from classic and progressive country to Tejano, conjunto, folk, rock and roll, blues, hip-hop, zydeco, Western Swing and more.”

“The idea all along has been to collect and preserve the cultural artifacts of our own particular region, first through the writers and photographers, and now through our singers and songwriters,” said Bill Wittliff, who with his wife Sally founded The Wittliff Collections in 1986. “How better to feel the very Heartbeat of Texas?”

The Texas Music Collection will acquire a broad range of materials, from handwritten song lyrics and historical documents to audio and video recordings, artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, posters and interviews from music journalists and biographers.

The Wittliff will showcase highlights of the new collection in its current galleries, and plans are underway to expand the public exhibition space with a new gallery dedicated exclusively to Texas music. The Wittliff will also continue to collaborate with Texas State’s Center for Texas Music History, which offers academic courses in the Department of History and publishes award-winning books along with The Journal of Texas Music History.

The Texas Music Collection already has significant materials available for research including those related to musicians such as Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker, along with a major Austin City Limits archive donated by ACL creator Bill Arhos. Texas artists such as Jesse Sublett, Terri Hendrix and many others are also represented.

The collection also encompasses substantial research archives from leading biographers and journalists: Joe Nick Patoski (Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire; Selena: Como la flor; Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, Sir Doug [Sahm] and the Genuine Texas Groove); Jan Reid (The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock; Texas Tornado: The Times and Music of Doug Sahm); Tamara Saviano (Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark); Brian T. Atkinson (I'll Be Here in the Morning: The Songwriting Legacy of Townes Van Zandt); John T. Davis (The Flatlanders: Now It's Now Again; Austin City Limits: 25 Years of American Music); and John Morthland (Texas Music: Legends from the Lone Star State).

The Wittliff also holds a substantial vintage Austin music poster collection; the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame archive; a photographic collection documenting Fort Worth’s Panther Hall—the world’s largest honky tonk in the 1960s-1970s; a collection of photographs, memorabilia and more from G.F. Jerry Retzloff, the man responsible for pairing Lone Star beer brand with country music; the Soap Creek Saloon Calendar and Poster Collection, and the papers of Mike Crowley, who managed artists such as Joe Ely, Hal Ketchum, Tish Hinojosa, and many more.

The Wittliff Collections were founded by Bill & Sally Wittliff in 1986 as the Southwestern Writers Collection, which preserves the literary papers of the region’s leading writers, including Cormac McCarthy, Sam Shepard, John Graves and Sandra Cisneros. In 1996, the Wittliff added its second major collection, the Southwestern & Mexican Photography Collection, now recognized as one of the premier collections of Mexican photography outside Mexico.

“The creation of this new collection devoted to Texas music is a momentous event for The Wittliff, for the University Libraries, and for Texas State University,” said Dr. Coleman. “We look forward to the exciting road ahead as The Wittliff continues its mission to preserve and celebrate our region’s cultural legacy.”

The Wittliff Collections are located on the seventh floor of the Albert B. Alkek Library at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. Visitor information, including hours, directions and parking details, is on the Wittliff Collections website. Exhibitions and events at The Wittliff Collections are free and open to the public.