James White, an icon as old as both country music and the genre’s rise and establishment as a notable feature of Austin, Texas, has died at 81, of congestive heart failure. As the Broken Spoke Dance Hall owner, he played a vital role in the spread of honky-tonk music and culture, plus the rise of artists including George Strait, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, and Kris Kristofferson.
The venerated venue’s most recent highlight was being featured on the cover of Strait’s 2019 album, “Honky Tonk Time Machine.” When told of White’s passing, Strait responded with the following, via Twitter:
“Mr. James White’s passing leaves a deep hole in the Texas Honky Tonk world. He was a man dedicated to keeping that tradition from slipping away. Some of my greatest memories are of playing the Broken Spoke back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. He gave me and the unknown at the time Ace In Hole Band a chance to play in front of people and no doubt was a big part of our success. He did that for many up and coming bands as well as already established artists who just wanted to play at The Spoke. Our prayers are with the White family. May God rest his Honky Tonk soul. I’ll see you down the road Mr. White.”
"Mr. James White’s passing leaves a deep hole in the Texas Honky Tonk world. He was a man dedicated to keeping that tradition from slipping away. Some of my greatest memories are of playing the Broken Spoke back in the late 70’s and early 80’s… (1/3) pic.twitter.com/u7EuBWbT7Z
— George Strait (@GeorgeStrait) January 25, 2021
White brazenly invited western swing innovator Bob Willis to play at the then little known dance hall in 1966. After his concert, the next five decades have involved significant country music stars and Texas notables, including then state governor George W. Bush, two-stepping the night away.
As The Spoke, much like venues across America closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. White offered a particularly poignant note showcasing both his and the Broken Spoke’s humble place in music history:
“Way back in 1964, I came underneath that big ol’ oak tree out there, and I walked across the dirt parking lot, and I visualized a place like no other.”
There is no word yet regarding funeral arrangements for Mr. White. He is survived by his fellow Broken Spoke owners: his wife, Annetta White, and his two daughters Ginny White-Peacock and Terri White.