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Dr. James Polk

Primary Instrument: Piano

Born: October 10, 1940    

Dr. James Polk

James Polk was one of the key figures in the Austin music scene from the late 1950s through the 1970s. Known in players' circles for his knowledge of the technical aspects of music (theory, composition, etc.), Polk was also responsible for forming the first integrated bands in the scene, which included young white players from University of Texas at Austin and Austin's West Side.

In the 1970s, Polk relocated to the West Coast to take a job with the Ray Charles Orchestra. After touring and recording internationally, he came back to Austin in the late 80s. Polk, who is very concerned with preserving Black music, has definite ideas about how to revitalize Black youth culture and would like to open an academy for the performing arts. Polk, like Martin Banks, has experienced the life of a career musician in the “major leagues” — his insights on Austin are informed by this experience. Polk, who is very unhappy with the state of the Black music community in Austin, is outspoken, articulate, and very willing to openly offer views. Polk points to the “myth of integration” as a subversive social force which aided in the disintegration of East Austin's cultural, social, and economic base from its former self-sufficiency that was imposed by law. With integration and white acceptance of blues as a more commercial, popular music, came an eager audience. The thing that did not happen was the opening of more professional playing situations for black East Austinites in West Side music clubs....
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Source: Harold McMillan, Austin Blues Family Tree Project

Awards

Two Time Grammy Nominee

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Piano

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