ROBERTSON, ALEXANDER [ECK]
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ROBERTSON, ALEXANDER [ECK] (1887–1975). Eck Robertson, legendary fiddler, was born Alexander Campbell Robertson in Delany, Arkansas, on November 20, 1887. When he was three, Robertson's family moved to the Texas Panhandle and settled on a small farm outside Amarillo. In the nineteenth century his grandfather, father, and uncles often entered fiddlers' conventions. At age twenty-one his father quit fiddling to preach at a "Campbellite" church. Robertson decided to pursue a musical career and left home at age sixteen. He traveled with medicine shows, a major employer of country musicians at the time, through Indian Territory. In 1906 Robertson married Nettie Levy, a childhood friend.
The couple settled near Amarillo, where Robertson worked tuning pianos for the Total-Line Music Company. Pursuing his musical ambitions, he and Nettie performed in vaudeville theaters and fiddle contests in the Southwestern states. As a son of a veteran, Robertson attended Old Confederate Soldiers' Reunions annually. In Richmond, Virginia, at the 1922 reunion, he met fiddler Henry C. Gilliland, and the two performed at the opening ceremony for over 4,000 veterans. Upon realizing their complementary talents, Gilliland and Robertson traveled to New York in an attempt to record with the Victor Talking Machine Company.
Gilliland utilized his contact, Martin W. Littleton, who enabled the two to record what most country music historians consider the first commercial recordings of country music, on June 30, 1922. The duets included the famous "Arkansas Traveler" and "Turkey in the Straw." The following day, Robertson returned to the studio without Gilliland and recorded six additional tracks solo, including "Sallie Gooden," as well as two tracks that were never released. The Victor Company issued a limited release of "Arkansas Traveler" and "Sallie Gooden" in September 1922, but not until April 1923 was the disc in wide circulation. Two other records were released later in 1923 and 1924.
Robertson set the trend for future performers; fourteen Central Texas fiddlers succeeded him by recording commercially in the years shortly following his first recording. After a seven-year break in 1929, he recorded again with the Victor Company in Dallas, accompanied by his son Dueron, wife Nettie, daughter Daphne, and friend Dr. J. B. Cranfil. Success of the recording was limited because of the stock market crash and ensuing contract disputes with Victor. Robertson did, however, have something of a radio career in Texas, performing occasionally for WBAP in Fort Worth and other stations.
In the 1930s and 1940s he lived in Panhandle, Texas, where family disasters occurred. Daphne died of pneumonia in 1931, and Dueron died in the war in 1944. In September 1940 Robertson recorded with the Sellers transcription studios in Dallas, with marginal success. Until his death on February 15, 1975, in Borger, Texas, he claimed that the Victor Company had treated him unfairly. Although Robertson never achieved fame or commercial success through his recording endeavors, he is remembered in country music history for being the first to record commercially. He was inducted into the Texas Fiddlers' Frolics Hall of Fame in 1983 . In 2011 he was an inductee into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame.
H. Wiley Hitchcock and Stanley Sadie, eds., The New Grove Dictionary of American Music (4 vols., New York: Macmillan, 1986). Bill C. Malone, Country Music U.S.A. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
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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, Jill S. Seeber, "Robertson, Alexander [Eck]," accessed September 29, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/froam.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on October 3, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.