Secret History of Austin Music: The Gant Family Singers

by Michael Corcoran
Austin-American Statesman

I had never actually heard of the Gants until about six months ago, and I'm pretty well-versed on Austin music history, so I was surprised to see their name on the liner notes for an album by the New Lost City Ramblers. The song was called, "When First Unto This Country A Stranger I Came". In the liner notes it said that it was recorded by John and Alan Lomax in Austin in 1934. So I went on-line [and] Googled "Gant Family Singers" and couldn't find hardly any information aside from the titles of songs that they recorded from the Library of Congress. What I did next was I put a blog up on Austin 360 and I just threw a net out there and just asked if anybody knew any relatives of the Gant family to contact us via the blog. About three months later, I received an email from a Julie Johnson in Florida and she is Ella Gant's granddaughter...and that gave me something to go on.

Since the recordings were made for academic, rather than commerical reasons, the quality was really unimportant to the Lomaxs. They just wanted he songs intact. I was able to find some of the Gant's recordings at the Center for American History. They were on reel-to-reel tapes, and so I was able to get about 16 or 17 songs...and I think in hearing the music, that really inspired me to work on the story because you can just hear so much harmony, and so much glee, and so much joy in those recordings...and I can see why the Lomaxs thought that the Gant family was so special. Once you heard the music it just all made sense.

Note: The above text is a transcription of an audio recording. A related article can be found here.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, but I beg to differ about one thing. Contrary to what is written here, quality was indeed very important to the Lomaxes, it was just that aluminum discs used in 1934 yielded very poor sound by our standards and deteriorates over time. Nevertheless it was state of the art at the time.