Tonight, Sept. 19, Austin legend Manuel “Cowboy” Donley will perform at the NEA National Heritage Fellowship Concert. The annual presentation will recognize Donley and the rest of this year’s fellowship honorees and will take place at George Washington University in Washington D.C., but will be webcast online.
Donley, 87, is an Austin icon. After forming his first band in the late 1940s, his popularity really took off with his band, Las Estrellas, in the mid 1950s with a style of music called “orquesta.” With saxophones, electric guitar, and flavors borrowed from rock and roll and jazz that defined the genre, the group scored a hit with “Flor Del Rio” in the early 1960s and toured the entire state. In the past few decades, Donley has gone on to perform and record in the more traditional “trio romantico” genre, his voice still clear and strong.
The National Heritage Fellowship is the nation’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts and is presented by the National Endowment for the Arts. Texas, which is rich in home-grown traditional music, is no stranger to this award, particularly for conjunto artists like Valerio Longoria, Tony De La Rosa, and Mingo Saldivar, just to name a few. Donley is the first of the orquesta tradition to receive this recognition.
Accompanying Donley onstage will be some of Austin’s most talented musicians including Big Band Tejano personnel Fred Soto, Felipe Borrero, Dez Desormeaux, and Marc Sustaita.
Long story short: A fantastic opportunity to show yet another side of Austin’s rich musical history on the national stage – one that’s often forgotten even in our own town. Definitely a night for Austin Tejano pride.
The webcast begins at 8 p.m. eastern time on Friday night, and can be viewed on the NEA website.