If you are, well, in the mood to hear a couple of supremely blest local musicians, mosey over to Greenwood Cemetery about sunset and park your ears under the big live oak tree in the roundabout, where Captain Charles Turner buried his gold before the Civil War. Maybe, just maybe, if the wind is right and the ectoplasmic channels are open, you will hear the music of these two neighbors-in-eternity:
As a child Gordon Lee Beneke lived on Allen Avenue on the East Side. His father, Frank, was a Star-Telegram pressman.
In 1923 Gordon’s parents gave him a saxophone for Christmas, and he began taking lessons.
By 1924, at age ten, Gordon was a member of the Recreation Board’s Junior Orchestra. (Note that Frank Maco was director.) By thirteen Gordon was playing in his school’s ROTC and dance bands and had his own band, the Beneke Trio. His drummer? Ben Hogan, who had yet to trade the drumstick for the mashie-niblick.
By 1935 Beneke was playing with the Ben Young band when drummer Gene Krupa heard Beneke and told Glenn Miller about the young sax player. In 1938 Miller, after hearing Beneke play, gave him an offer of $50 a week to join his orchestra. Beneke held out for $52.50 and got it, but Miller said, “But you are going to have to prove you are worth the extra $2.50.” After hearing Beneke’s drawl, Miller gave Beneke one more thing: his nickname “Tex.” Tex Beneke played sax or sang on the orchestra’s recordings of songs such as “In the Mood,” “A String of Pearls,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”
The orchestra disbanded in 1942 when Miller joined the Army and Beneke joined the Navy. Each man entertained troops as a band leader.
Glenn Miller disappeared on a flight over the English Channel in 1944. In 1946 Beneke became leader of the Glenn Miller orchestra for four years. The orchestra’s pianist was Henry Mancini.
In 1950 Beneke left the Miller orchestra after a dispute with the Miller estate and formed his own band and performed another forty years.
Tex Beneke died in California on May 30, 2000.
Watch Tex Beneke perform “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”
Sixty years before the United States at large experienced the “British invasion” led by four musical lads from Liverpool, Fort Worth experienced its own British invasion on a smaller scale when a musical lad from Liverpool arrived.
Buried to the north of Tex Beneke in Greenwood Cemetery is William John Marsh.
Marsh was born in Liverpool in 1880. He moved to Fort Worth in 1904 and lived on Henderson Street on the South Side.
Marsh had received his musical education in England and was active in music here from the start, as the 1906 clip shows. But at first his day job was cotton clerk in the Neil P. Anderson Building. Marsh became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1917. (In the top clip Imogene Sanguinet was daughter of architect Marshall Sanguinet.)
By 1921 Marsh was choir director of First Presbyterian Church. Over the years he also was professor of organ, composition, and theory at TCU, later held a similar post at Our Lady of Victory Academy, and was choir director at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and organist of that church more than thirty years. He was also music critic for the evening Star-Telegram.
In 1926 Marsh could be heard on radio station WBAP, along with Uncle Billy and the Little Symphony of the Hired Hand (Harold Hough) under the direrction of Frank Maco. Clip is from the June 6 Dallas Morning News.
But Marsh is best remembered, of course, for composing the melody of “Texas, Our Texas.” He and Gladys Yoakum Wright, also of Fort Worth, wrote the lyrics. In 1924 Governor Pat M. Neff had initiated a contest to select a state song. Prize to the winner: $1,000 ($14,000 today). In December 1924 a committee of twenty-five teachers, musicians, and lawyers chose the composition of Marsh and Wright over 286 competitors.
On January 4, 1925 the Star-Telegram trumpeted the news of selection of the song written by two Fort Worth residents but pointed out that the song still had to be approved by the state legislature. That’s when Marsh and Wright began to hear the sour notes of bureaucracy.
Before the legislature could approve the song, a new governor—Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson—was sworn in. The Marsh-Wright song even was performed at her inauguration. So far, so good, right? (Photo from Wikipedia.)
But interest in the song waned with time, and the state legislature still had not adopted the song. Then somewhere in the bowels of bureaucracy it was decided that Texas should conduct another contest to pick a state song. This time six songs, including the Marsh-Wright song, would be considered.
“Texas, Our Texas” won again.
And still it was not adopted by the legislature.
In 1928 a third contest was held: Each state senatorial district would select a song. From these finalists a state song committee would select a winner at a meeting in Dallas in December.
You guessed it: “Texas, Our Texas” won yet again.
Finally the Marsh-Wright song was adopted by the state legislature in May 1929. It was formally accepted in a joint session of the House and Senate in March 1930, and after six years Marsh and Wright finally got their $1,000 check. (John Philip Sousa would declare “Texas, Our Texas” to be the finest state song he had ever heard.)
Listen to “Texas, Our Texas.”
In 1936 Marsh composed the official march and mass of the Texas centennial exposition in Dallas.
Marsh at the organ of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1948. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.)
In death William John Marsh shared the front page on February 2, 1971 with the crew of Apollo 14. He had lived long enough to see space travel and to see the first word of the third line of the lyrics of “Texas, Our Texas” (largest) replaced with boldest after Alaska became the largest state in 1959.
More residents of Greenwood Cemetery: