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Birth of Texas blues pianist Robert Shaw

August
09
1908

On this day in 1908, blues pianist Robert Shaw was born in Stafford, Texas. His parents had a Steinway grand piano and provided music lessons for his sisters, but Shaw's father did not permit the son to play. Years later Shaw told an interviewer that he would "crawl under the house" to catch the musical strains coming from the piano lessons, and he played the piano when the rest of the family was away from home. Reportedly, the first song he learned was "Aggravatin' Papa Don't You Try to Two-Time Me." By the time he was a teenager, Shaw would slip away to hear jazz musicians in Houston and at the roadhouses in the nearby countryside. In time, despite his father's opposition, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming a jazz musician. Shaw learned his distinct brand of "barrelhouse" piano playing from other musicians in the Fourth Ward, Houston, the center of black entertainment in the city. His career flourished in the 1920s and 30s, then suffered a thirty-year hiatus while he ran a grocery store in Austin. Shaw began performing again in 1967 and gained international recognition before his death in 1985.

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