If you live outside of Texas, you may not have heard of the Portal to Texas History:

As described on the site, “The Portal to Texas History is a gateway to rare, historical, and primary source materials from or about Texas.” Coverage primarily dates from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. A brief history of the site should help to explain its possible value as a music reference source.  

The portal was conceived in 2002 to provide digital access to historical materials from collaborating institutional partners and private collectors throughout the state. When it was launched in 2004, the database was small, but it has grown exponentially by now.

In 2007 it began to digitize Texas newspapers in cooperation with the National Digital Newspaper Program of the Library of Congress, and the Texas Digital Newspaper Program began. Content is freely available through the Library of Congress “Chronicling America” website and the Portal. This initiative has enabled researchers to read newspapers from small and medium-sized Texas cities and towns which would hardly ever be represented in the large commercial newspaper databases to which many libraries subscribe.

Grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and other entities has been crucial to the project’s growth. As of 2020, it had provided 8 million digitized newspaper pages. There is also a variety of other content. For example, the portal includes the television news archive of Dallas-Fort Worth’s NBC affiliate, KXAS, Channel 5.

For music researchers, this database has multiple possibilities as a reference source. Perhaps most importantly, it is a rich repository of contemporaneous information about many decades of musical performances in the state. This not only encompasses the activities of internationally famous stars, but also of local musicians, some in very small towns.

Some entries merely mention that a certain artist or ensemble would perform in a certain city on a certain date, but others give details of program content and detailed reviews of concerts. Even if performers were famous stars, concerts that did not receive in-depth reviews in big cities, where such events were commonplace, might have received them in smaller cities or towns, where they were much rarer. Such coverage provides significant source material for research in reception history and the repertoires of a wide diversity of musical performers. Details of concerts by school ensembles or amateur groups provide significant source material for research in music education and the place of music in American life.

The Portal to Texas History continues to grow. Consider getting acquainted with it and revisiting it periodically to see what it has to offer for music research and beyond.

Donna Arnold