The Center for Texas Music History was established in 1999 under director Gary Hartman as the Institute for the History of Texas Music at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos (now Texas State University). It was approved by the Texas State University System Board of Regents on August 20, 1999. In the fall of 2001 the institute was officially renamed the Center for Texas Music History.
The center's primary goal is to help students, scholars, and the general public better understand how Texas music reflects the richly diverse ethnic and cultural heritage of the American Southwest. Through a variety of activities and projects, the center strives to increase awareness and appreciation for the important role music plays in shaping and reflecting the historical development of American society.
Headquartered in the university's history department, the center offers graduate and undergraduate courses on the musical history of Texas and the Southwest. Students examine the many different ethnic musical influences involved in the development of the region, including Hispanic, Anglo, African-American, Irish, German, Polish, Czech, French, and others. Students also look at how other social, economic, and political factors have helped shape the region, its people, and its music, as well as how Texas and the Southwest have made important contributions to larger American musical idioms such as blues, ragtime, jazz, conjunto, Tejano, western swing, and rock-and-roll.
In 2001 the center began publication of The Journal of Texas Music History, the first academic journal to cover the entire spectrum of Southwestern music history. It worked with the Texas State Historical Association to help produce The Handbook of Texas Music which was first published in 2003 and revised and expanded in 2012. The center sponsors the Texas Music Oral History Program through which it conducts interviews with members of the Texas music community and then archives those interviews for future researchers. Furthermore, the center has worked with a variety of museums, including the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, as well as public schools and others to organize exhibits, musical performances, and other educational programs. In the early 2000s the center developed the Texas Music History Online web site, which serves as a database for researchers and an interactive classroom teaching tool for educators.
Additional events include an annual Texas Music History Unplugged concert, a student songwriter competition, as well as academic panels and other educational activities. The center has released a series of compilation CDs entitled Travelin' Texas, which feature a diverse array of prominent Texas musicians. The center also helps collect archival materials related to Texas music history which are added to the larger Texas music collection housed in the university's Southwestern Writer's Collection. The university's holdings include materials from Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Selena Quintanilla, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Western Swing Hall of Fame, and many others.
By the 2010s the Center for Texas Music History had introduced several new projects, including co-production of a weekly National Public Radio program entitled This Week in Texas Music History and co-production of the PBS television series Texas Music Café. The center also launched a major book series, the John and Robin Dickson Series in Texas Music, in collaboration with Texas A&M University Press, and released it first volume, The History of Texas Music, in 2008. Subsequent books have included Everyday Music (2012) and Deep Ellum: The Other Side of Dallas (2013). In 2015 the center established the Kent Finlay Endowed Scholarship in honor of the late songwriter and founder of Cheatham Street Warehouse.