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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical :

"MY BLUE HEAVEN: GENE AUSTIN"

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
Gainesville, in Cooke County, gained a native son named Eugene Lucas on June 24,1900. Lucas became one of the nation's most popular entertainers during the 1930s, but by then he used his stepfather's name-Austin.

Gene Austin led a life of glamour for seventy-two years. At the age of fifteen he joined the Army and took part in General J.J. Pershing's futile pursuit of Francisco "Pancho" Villa in Mexico and in the successful defense of democracy in Europe during WWI.

Austin trained for a time to become a dentist, switched to the law, but when his rich tenor voice made possible a career in entertainment, he devoted a great deal of the remainder of his life to that endeavor.

Austin helped popularize the "crooner" style of singing also used in the early careers of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. His RCA Victor releases eventually sold eighty-six million records, including twelve million prints of his most successful recording, "My Blue Heaven." Other best sellers by Austin included "When My Sugar Walks Down The Street," "My Melancholy Baby," "Girl Of My Dreams," and "Ramona."

Though he never learned to read music, Austin helped write such famous melodies as "When My Sugar Walks Down The Street" and "How Come You Do Me Like You Do (Do Do)?" He appeared in three musical movies early in the 1930s and often performed on radio variety shows.

Austin traveled the circuit as a nightclub entertainer in the 1940s, and eventually settled in Las Vegas, Nevada. He attempted to win the governor's race of that state in 1962 but lost to Grant Sayer, the incumbent. Austin died in Palm Springs, California, on January 24, 1972.

Like others with backgrounds in the eastern Texas region, Austin earned fame and some fortune a long way from his roots. But "When the whippoorwills call and evening is nigh," they always remember the blue heavens of home.

© Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical
> December 4, 2006 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.

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