Musicians Off the Record: Clay Shorkey

For over a generation, Clay Shorkey has worked to build a major Texas resource, the Texas Music Museum (TMM), which contributes to research “particularly related to musicians and groups who have been less recognized, but (provide) tremendous contributions in terms of the culture of the state. . . . because people all over the world are interested in Texas music.”

A senior clinical professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Social Work since 1973, Shorkey’s passion for the history of Texas music led him to incorporate his non-profit organization in 1984.  As president of the TMM—a member of the Texas Association of Museums—Shorkey has devoted much of his life to collecting expressive traditions of Texas music in the hope of preserving the past for future generations. The museum, located on Austin’s historic East 11th Street, presents a broad range of exhibits, music programs and symposia annually while providing resources to the community. 

For as long as he can remember, Shorkey has been “interested in collecting rare recordings and music machines, all kinds of early phonographs and music boxes.  Amassing about 5,000 item collections. It kind of got out of hand.”  With a collection of artifacts, documents and reference material enveloping diverse traditions of Texas music, Shorkey has utilized the collection for exhibits ranging from Great Texas Guitarists to Tejano Orchestras and African-American Contributions to Texas Music. “Texas has just literally hundreds of hundreds of famous musicians from anything you can think about, classical composers to pop and rock,” Shorkey states. “We knew no one wanted to give us a bunch of money to just do a museum without much behind it, so we decided to take fifteen years and research all this and see if we can’t build a collection and an archive of things.”

The collection and programs of the TMM encourage active participation by youth and adults in continuing the legacy of Texas music and exposes the state’s rich and diverse musical history.  Shorkey sees promise in the future of an ever more ethnically diverse state, which he believes will one day place “more emphasis on resources for kids and music education in schools.” Since its founding, the support base for TMM bears this out as writers, librarians, students and academicians utilize its resources in increasing numbers. “Over the years we’ve built a collection that covers almost everything you can think about. We’ve tried to emphasize those areas that have been neglected for example, Native American Texas music. You can almost tell the story of anything from a point of view of music.”