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AUSTIN, GENE (1900–1972). Gene Austin, singer and composer, was born Eugene Lucas on June 24, 1900, in Gainesville, Texas. He was the son of Nova Lucas and Serena Belle (Harrell) Lucas. His parents divorced, and his mother married Jim Austin, a blacksmith. Eugene took the surname of his stepfather. He grew up in small towns in Louisiana, joined the United States Army when he was fifteen, participated in the expedition sent to capture Francisco (Pancho) Villa in 1916, and served in France during World War I. He studied both dentistry and law in Baltimore, but decided on a singing career. Though he composed more than 100 songs, Austin never learned to read music. He was one of the original crooners, and his tenor voice was well-known in the early days of radio and on the hand-cranked phonographs of the 1920s and 1930s. His RCA Victor recordings sold a total of more than 86 million copies; one of the recordings, "My Blue Heaven" (recorded in1927), sold over 12 million records.
Austin started his recording career in 1923, and the next year Jimmy McHugh produced his first hit song, "When My Sugar Walks Down the Street," with lyrics by Austin and Irving Mills. Other hit songs Austin introduced were "My Melancholy Baby," "Girl of My Dreams," "Ramona," "Carolina Moon," and "Sleepy Time Gal." His compositions included "How Come You Do Me Like You Do?" and "Lonesome Road." In the 1930s Austin debuted in the movies, which included Sadie McKee (1934) and Gift of Gab (1934) . Over the years he was also featured on numerous radio programs. In 1939 he began working with Billy Wehle in a musical-comedy tent show that spent the winter in Gainesville and opened in 1940 during the Circus Roundup of the Gainesville Community Circus.
Austin was a nightclub entertainer in the 1930s, but then his career waned. After his life was dramatized in a television special in the late 1950s, he resumed nightclub appearances. He continued to write songs until the last ten months of his life, when he developed lung cancer. Austin spent most of his adult life in Las Vegas, Nevada, and in 1962 he ran for governor there, but lost badly to the incumbent, Grant Sawyer. He was married five times. He married Kathryn Arnold in 1924, and they had one daughter. After a divorce in 1929, Austin married Agnes Antelline in 1933. They had one daughter but divorced in 1940. Austin's third wife was Doris Sherrell (married in 1940 and divorced in 1946). He was then married to LouCeil Hudson from 1949 to 1966; they divorced. He married his fifth wife, Gigi Theodorea, in 1967. Austin died on January 24, 1972, in Palm Springs, California, and was survived by his wife Gigi and his two daughters. He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
Austin received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His 1927 recording of "My Blue Heaven" received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1978. He was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2005 for his 1926 rendition of "Bye Bye Blackbird," the first recording of that song.
Austin American-Statesman, January 25, 1972. Dallas Morning News, August 6, 1956. New York Times, January 24, 1972. Newsweek, May 6, 1957. Saturday Evening Post, August 31, 1957.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, "Austin, Gene," accessed September 24, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fau06.
Uploaded on June 9, 2010. Modified on October 1, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.