A number of popular performers have come from the Port Neches and Port Arthur area. Singer Johnny Preston was born John Preston Courville, Jr. in Port Arthur, Texas on August 18, 1939 to John Preston Courville, Sr. and Margaret Schexnayder Courville. As a youth, he sang in high school choirs and around the state. Johnny attended Port Arthur College as he began his singing career. Using the stage name Johnny Preston, he formed a vocal group called The Shades and was appearing in a local club in Port Neches at the time he was noticed by club owner J. P. Richardson, who recorded under the name “The Big Bopper.” Richardson was a singer/songwriter and had written a teenage tragedy song (a somewhat popular genre at the time) called “Running Bear” that that tells the story of two Native American youths who drown in a swollen river as they attempted to get together. The tune was recorded in a Houston studio and became a hit record for the nineteen year old Preston in 1958. By the time of its release, Richardson had been tragically killed in a plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa in 1959 along with the aircraft’s pilot, singer Richie Valens and fellow Texan and singer Buddy Holly.Read the rest of this entry »
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Arthur Wilson was born in Tyler, Smith County, Texas. There is some question about his actual date of birth, but it is often shown as being April 3, 1886 with his mother’s maiden name being Lamkin and his father’s name being Wilson. In some accounts he is shown as being younger, but in the 1900 federal census, he is listed as being fifteen, living south of downtown Tyler with his mother Manda Wilson and brother George. Accounts of his early life often state that by age twelve, Arthur was performing in minstrel shows and that his nickname was adopted in the 1920s from his performances singing an Irish tune “Mr. Dooley.”Read the rest of this entry »
The actress known as Ginger Rogers (Virginia Katherine McMath) was born July 16, 1911 to William Eddins McMath and the former Lela Emogene Owens in Independence, Missouri. Her birth father was an electrical engineer and her mother was a reporter, scriptwriter and movie producer. Her parents separated soon after she was born and Ginger was raised by her mother and maternal grandparents in Kansas City. When she was nine years old, Lela married John Logan Rogers. Ginger took her stepfather’s last name, although she was likely never formally adopted. Her mother wrote for a local newspaper in Fort Worth, Texas covering entertainment, exposing Ginger to the field and the life of entertainment. Ginger won a Charleston dance contest when she was fourteen years old and is known to have begun appearing in vaudeville shows after that.Read the rest of this entry »
Theodore Childress “Chill” Wills was born on July 18, 1902 to a family in Seagoville, Texas. His father was a farmer by the name of Robert Bruce Wills and his mother was the former Frances Elizabeth “Fannie” Rublee. Chill was the youngest of six children of this union and his father Robert Bruce died in 1907 when he was only forty-four and Chill was five. Robert Bruce Wills is believed to be buried in Oakland Cemetery in South Dallas. It does not appear that this Wills family is related to the family of country singer/band leader Bob Wills. Fannie Rublee Wills had married John Dunaway by 1910 and the couple were living near downtown Dallas with their family that now consisted of John, Fannie and seven children. What eventually became of John Dunaway is not known at this time. By 1920, Chill was living with his mother a little further out of downtown on Kings Highway and she was married to Allen E. Barse. The census forms say that both Chill and his stepfather Barse worked at a saddlery in Dallas.
Famed baritone vocalist Julius Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe was born December 29, 1887 in Waco, McLennan County, Texas to Henry Lee Devalt Bledsoe and Jessie Cobb Bledsoe. His father died when he was still an infant and by the time he was about two and a half years old, he and his mother were living with her parents, the Cobbs, near downtown Waco. His grandfather Stephen Cobb has been mentioned as a founder of Waco’s historic congregation, New Hope Baptist Church. It was at New Hope where young Julius had sung solos by the time he was five years old. In 1914, Bledsoe graduated as valedictorian of Central Texas Academy, founded by African American Baptists in 1901 in Waco. From there, Julius went on to enroll at Temple College in Waco before transferring to Bishop College in Marshall, Texas where he earned his A B degree.