Texans don’t merely participate in culture. We help define it and advance it and turn it on its head. Selena wasn’t just a tejano singer. She was a Texan pioneer. Same with Robert Rauschenberg in the art world. And Larry McMurtry in the world of letters. There are thousands of Texans who changed the world forever through their art, including these singular icons.
The Country Star
Though he battled drug addiction and was a frequent no-show, the pride of Saratoga may have been the greatest country singer of all time. Even Waylon said he wished he could sing like Jones.
Is a country record that includes disco rhythms and songs inspired by an acid trip still a country record? When this Golden native is doing the singing and acid-dropping, it sure is, no matter what the Grammy committee thinks.
The Blues Guitarist
Fifty years ago, Texas was flush with great blues guitarists—think Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, and Johnny Winter. We’ll give the edge to King, whose piercing lead lines shredded the borders between blues, R&B, and funk.
Gary Clark Jr.
More than thirty years after Stevie Ray Vaughan’s death, blues has slipped from prominence pretty much everywhere. Hope lies with this Austinite, who like King before him shows an electrifying disregard for genre.
The One We Can’t Forget
The UT dropout from Port Arthur didn’t record that much music in the studio before her death at 27. But there are worlds to be discovered in the thick grain of her voice, and people just keep discovering them.
The Lake Jackson–born Queen of Tejano had released a staggering amount of music when she was taken from us in 1995 at the age of 23—eleven studio albums destined to inspire countless generations of fans.
The Rock Band
The little ol’ band from Houston pulled together the blues, Gulf Coast R&B, and psychedelia to create a distinctly Texas version of Southern rock. They had chops and they knew how to use them.
Drawing on strains of Massachusetts indie rock, Motown, and British dub, these Austinites proved that a band doesn’t need to be all that “Texan” to qualify as a great Texas rock band.
This cattle-country native convinced the rest of the world that small-town Texas life and big-city Texas life were worthy subjects of serious literature. Convinced a few Texans, too.
The bard of Black East Texas writes atmospheric, character-driven thrillers set on back roads and in juke joints that few Texas authors know of, much less know so much about.
Having grown up in Wharton, the “Gateway to the Texas Gulf Coast,” Foote wrote plays and movies such as The Trip to Bountiful and Tender Mercies that provided audiences a view into rural Texas life.
“Broadway’s Next Great Playwright” grew up in Dallas, as his dramas, with titles like Plano and Corsicana, indicate. He hasn’t brought much Texas flavor to his side gig as a writer for HBO’s Succession, though.
The Port Arthur native anticipated the Pop Art movement, pioneered putting found objects into artworks, and lost a Vatican commission when he portrayed God as a satellite dish. Not bad for a UT dropout.
Trenton Doyle Hancock
Raised in Paris (Texas), the Whitney Biennial alum has worked his small-town, religious upbringing into critically acclaimed, cartoon-influenced drawings and paintings that portray an eternal battle between good and evil.
The Maverick Film Director
1974’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre gave birth to an entire horror subgenre and, arguably, the Texas indie film scene. And Hooper did it with a budget that wouldn’t have covered the catering for his studio hit, 1982’s Poltergeist.
The San Antonio native’s low-budget, DIY ethos and tech savvy helped turn Austin into a moviemaking mecca—and proved that box office smashes could be made deep in flyover country.
This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Icons, Then and Now.” Subscribe today.
Image credits: Jones, King, Joplin: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty; Musgraves: Tim Mosenfelder/FilmMagic/Getty; Clark: Javier Bragado/Redferns/Getty; Selena: Arlene Richie/Getty; ZZ Top: Gems/Redferns/Getty; Spoon: Steven Ferdman/Getty; McMurtry: Diana Walker/Getty; Locke: Leon Bennett/Getty; Foote: Bob Riha, Jr./Getty; Arbery: Bruce Glikas/Getty; Rauschenberg: Bettman/Getty; Hancock: Rick Kern/Getty; Hooper: Ron Galella Collection/Getty; Rodriguez: Gary Mitchell/SOPA Images/Getty