TexasEscapes.com HOME Welcome to Texas Escapes
A magazine written by Texas
Custom Search
New   |   Texas Towns   |   Ghost Towns   |   Counties   |   Trips   |   Features   |   Columns   |   Architecture   |   Images   |   Archives   |   Site Map

Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories

Texas Counties

Texas Towns
A - Z

Columns | Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories

He Became the Magnificent Montague When He Got Off of the Boat in Galveston

Nathaniel Montague

by Bill Cherry
Bill Cherry
In the early ‘50s, white people were listening to an NBC radio weekly comedy called, “The Magnificent Montague,” that starred Monty Wooley. But the Magnificent Montague I want to talk about isn’t fictional, and he’s not white, he’s black, and he’s probably one of the most important contributors to American black culture that has ever lived. Someone you should know about.

His real name is Nathaniel Montague, but probably less than a handful of people know his given name. To the public, he’s always been known as The Magnificent Montague. He was born in New Jersey, left there before he graduated from a black military school to travel the seas as a merchant marine. And he got off of his ship in Galveston because he heard there was a disc jockey position open at a Beaumont radio station. He wanted to play music. It was 1954.

Montague got the job, and like all of the other black disc jockeys, he played rhythm and blues records – B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Bobby Bland and Little Junior Parker, but he added a new twist. Montague used poetry, sometimes that of a great poet, sometimes that he had written himself, to connect the music together. And he did it with a low and mellow voice, and sometimes a piercing, rapid falsetto one. Even though I’ve had fifty years to think about it, to me his style remains indescribable.

He learned when the Ku Klux Klan showed up at that Beaumont station to run him out of town, that more white housewives were listening to him every day than black. The Klan thought he was causing that on purpose. Fortunately, another disc jockey at the station, a well-respected white fellow named J.P. Richardson, was there, and he convinced the Klan members it wasn’t Montague’s purpose at all. J.P. Richardson, by the way, later became known as the Big Bopper (“Chantilly Lace”).

Somewhere along the way, Montague married one of his Beaumont station’s listeners, a Louisiana girl who was white. Her name is Rose, and they’ve been married for nearly 60 years.

Montague moved from the Beaumont station to Houston’s KCOH, and that’s where I heard him for the first time. I was 14, and every boy I knew was listening after school to the Magnificent Montague. Magnificent Montague in the afternoon followed by Rascal McCaskill at night. It was impossible for there to be a music diet of too much rhythm and blues. For me, there still isn’t.

And then one day a friend and I left Carl’s Drive-in in his black ‘47 Ford with the fender skirts and the mellow rumbling of the Smitty mufflers, and turned down 53rd Street from Broadway. There was a new brick building on the east side of the street that had just popped up, and on the front was a big poster with Montague’s picture, letting all who passed by know that he would be the opening personality for the new tavern. We had to see him, and we did.

The Magnificent Montague was a skinny, short man, impeccably dressed. And we watched and listened as he entertained – just like he did on KCOH – a packed house of black men and women and two underage white boys.

Shortly thereafter, Montague moved from Houston to Texas City’s KTLW, and then almost as quickly, he vanished from Texas, going from radio station to radio station across the United States, following the chain letter that would take him to and through the big time – Chicago, New York, Los Angeles. And he made big money because his influence on what rhythm and blues tunes became hits was phenomenal.

But what makes this story a story and what really makes Montague legitimately magnificent is that he came on this earth with a big brain. He began reading and studying everything he could about American black heritage. But what he did that was the most unique was that he began searching every garage and estate sale, every used bookstore and every art gallery, and bought every first edition book, original art piece, and historical artifact that told and validated the history of black America. Most of the vendors didn’t know their worth. Those that did, Montague raised the money and paid their price. Why weren’t museums doing that? Where was the Smithsonian? Would there have ever been a substantive collection of the works of black authors, musicians, scholars and artists had there not been a Magnificent Montague?
Today, at 78, the Magnificent Montague has some 6,000 pieces in his collection, all catalogued, and its value is now reported to be some $5 million. The Magnificent Montague and Rose live in Las Vegas.

His autobiography, “Burn Baby, Burn,” was written with the help of famed Los Angeles Times reporter, Bob Baker. It was published by the University of Illinois Press in 2003. It is an extremely well-written chronicle of that culture, as seen and experienced by Montague. And it offers empirical evidence to those who are unfamiliar with Nathaniel Montague as to why the name Magnificent rightly belongs only to him.
Order Here
Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories July 14 , 2007 column
Copyright William S. Cherry
All rights reserved
Related Topics:
Galveston, Texas

Bill Cherry, a Dallas Realtor and free lance writer was a longtime columnist for "The Galveston County Daily News." His book, Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories, has sold thousands


Texas Escapes Online Magazine »   Archive Issues » Home »
Texas Counties
Texas Towns A-Z
Texas Ghost Towns

Central Texas North
Central Texas South
Texas Gulf Coast
Texas Panhandle
Texas Hill Country
East Texas
South Texas
West Texas

Rooms with a Past

Gas Stations
Post Offices
Water Towers
Grain Elevators
Cotton Gins

Vintage Photos
Historic Trees
Old Neon
Ghost Signs
Pitted Dates
Then & Now

Columns: History/Opinion
Texas History
Small Town Sagas
Black History
Texas Centennial

Texas Railroads

Texas Trips
Texas Drives
Texas State Parks
Texas Rivers
Texas Lakes
Texas Forts
Texas Trails
Texas Maps

Site Map
About Us
Privacy Statement
Contact Us

Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes LLC. All Rights Reserved