David Wendel Guion, composer and musician, son of John I. and Armour (Fentress) Guion, was born on December 15, 1892, in Ballinger, Texas. His mother was an accomplished singer and pianist, and his father was a prominent judge. Guion's parents discovered his musical ability when he was five years old; consequently he started his musical education early. He studied first in nearby San Angelo, then at the Whipple Academy in Jacksonville, Illinois, and further at Polytechnic College in Fort Worth. His parents sent him to Vienna to study with Leopold Godowsky at the Royal Conservatory of Music. After the outbreak of World War I Guion returned to the states, where he began teaching and composing. By 1934 he had married Marion Ayres, the daughter of one of the cofounders of the Duke & Ayres variety store chain, but they had divorced by 1940.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s he composed and performed music that reflected his Texas heritage. For a time he hosted a Western-oriented weekly radio show in New York City, for which he wrote the scripts and music. But Guion, at one time himself an accomplished cowboy, became most famous for his arrangement of the cowboy song "Home on the Range," which was performed for the first time in his New York production Prairie Echoes. It became a favorite of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the nation. In 1936 Guion was commissioned to write Cavalcade of America for the Texas Centennial celebration, and in 1950 he received a commission from the Houston Symphony Orchestra, for which he completed the suite Texas in 1952. His compositions number over 200 published works and includes orchestral suites, ballet music, piano pieces, and secular and religious songs. His music has been performed around the world.
Guion was one of the first American composers to collect and transcribe folk tunes, including Negro spirituals, into concert music. He is well-known for his arrangements of "Turkey in the Straw" and "The Arkansas Traveler," as well as "The Yellow Rose of Texas," "The Lonesome Whistler," "The Harmonica Player," "Jazz Scherzo," "Barcarolle," "The Scissors Grinder," "Valse Arabesque," and the Mother Goose Suite. He was a master at musically representing the history and heritage of early Texas with such works as "Ride, Cowboy, Ride," "The Bold Vaquero," "Lonesome Song of the Plains," "Prairie Dusk," and the "Texas Fox Trot." A collection of his waltzes, "Southern Nights," was used in the movie Grand Hotel.
Guion was a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, the Texas Composers Guild, and the Texas Teachers Association. In 1955 the National Federation of Music Clubs announced that Guion was one of America's most significant folk-music composers. Guion, a Presbyterian and a Democrat, had a teaching career spanning over sixty years. He influenced young musicians at numerous colleges and conservatories including Howard Payne University (which in 1950 awarded him an honorary doctorate in music), Fort Worth Polytechnic College, Fairmont Conservatory, Chicago Musical College, Daniel Baker College, and Southern Methodist University.
Guion died on October 17, 1981, in Dallas and was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Ballinger. Upon his death, his large collection of furniture, glassware, music recordings, books, and memorabilia was donated to the International Festival-Institute at Round Top. The Crouch Music Library at Baylor University, the Dallas Public Library, and the Fine Arts Library at the University of Texas at Austin have portions of his archives.