James White Broken Spoke
Screengrab via YouTube

James White, Founder of Austin's the Broken Spoke, Dies at 81

James White, a fifth generation Texan, opened South Austin's legendary Broken Spoke in 1964. The dance hall throwback remains a country music destination in one of the genre's vital cities.

The chatty owner of the Broken Spoke became a beloved figure over the years, as his jewel of Austin's live music scene opened its doors to a who's-who of performers: including (and hardly limited to) Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, Ernest Tubb, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, George Strait's Ace in the Hole Band and Garth Brooks.

James M. White died on Sunday (Jan. 24). His wife Annetta White and daughter Ginny White-Peacock told ABC affiliate KVUE and other outlets that the Texas dance hall owner had been suffering from congestive heart failure.

"He gave us a place to perform the music that we wanted to do in the atmosphere that we wanted — a Texas dance hall," said Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel (as quoted by the Austin American-Statesman). "James was one of the most magnanimous and generally nice people — with a capital 'N' — in this world."

Most tributes put White over as a genuinely good person.

"James was one of the kindest people I ever met," Texas music great Alvin Crow told the Austin American-Statesman. "He was always interested in people and people enjoying themselves and having a good time."

White's cousin Monte Warden's among the local talents honoring the owner of Austin's country music destination.

"He always wore a cowboy hat, a western shirt, jeans and boots," Warden told the Austin American-Statesman. "He looked like a honky-tonk owner out of central casting. He knew a lot of people's only experience of a honky-tonk in Texas was going to be at the Broken Spoke."

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Today's acts held White in equally high regard.

"We started out playing the dining room at the Broken Spoke weekdays at 4pm, entertaining the folks eating chicken fried steaks and hamburgers," reads a social media post by Midland. "We'd go watch people like Dale Watson and Gary P. Nunn play the dance hall on the weekends and the owner James White would get up and give his famous 'Carnegie Hall' intro before singing 'Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms' with the band. This photo is from November 25, 2015, the first time we got to play the dance hall and James White came up to sing that song with us. That's when we knew we'd made it. Rest In Peace James White and thank you for building the world's greatest honky tonk back in 1964."

For more on the Broken Spoke, check out the 2016 documentary Honky Tonk Heaven: Legend of the Broken Spoke and the 2017 book The Broken Spoke: Austin's Legendary Honky-Tonk.

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