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David & Art - Cindy Walker and her House

David Smith delves into the fascinating story of an overlooked but influential songwriter, and the efforts to preserve her local historic home.

Last week we talked about the power of place and how it functions in the art world just like it functions in other places that we more generally associate with history. Each year the National Trust for Historic Preservation publishes a list of particularly endangered places. works to preserve important spots like that. By rallying around the places that bring stories to life, the group says, communities are not only empowered by their unique pasts, but also to preserve their sense of identity, continuity, and vitality for the future.

On the list this year are 11 places ranging from a sugar plantation in the US Virgin Islands to the Little Tokyo District of Los Angeles. If you go to the group’s website, you can see pictures of the 11 places on this year’s list. The first one mentioned is dilapidated house in the small Texas town of Mexia in which lived a songwriter named Cindy Walker.

Walker was born in Mart, Texas during WWI. As a girl she wrote poetry and gradually started performing as a singer, dancer, and songwriter. In 1940 she and her mom and dad went to Los Angeles, and in a story that’s almost too much to believe, she wound up playing one of her songs for Bing Crosby. He loved it, recorded it, and it became a hit. She moved back to central Texas in 1954, continued to write songs, and lived most of the rest her life in this house in Mexia. She died in March, 2006.

More than 400 times one of her songs has been on a top 40 hits list. The legendary Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys eventually recorded more than 50 of her songs. Listen to this list: Her songs became hits for Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash, Eddy Arnold, Roy Orbison, Hank Snow, Merle Haggard, Jim Reeves, B. B. King, Webb Pierce, Dean Martin, Gene Autry, Glen Campbell, and many others. Her biggest hit was probably a song called “You Don’t Know Me.” Emmylou Harris, Mickey Gilley, Kenny Rogers, Elvis Presley, and Ray Charles, recorded versions of it.

The National Trust for Historic Places” says that “like many female artists, Walker was largely overlooked in her lifetime. The lack of awareness, acknowledgment, and respect for Walker’s impact on country music allowed her home and studio to fall into an endangered condition.”

The Cindy Walker Foundation in Mexia bought the house in 2022 and is working hard to preserve her name, her legacy, and to restore the house. The Foundation says that her house is “significant not only to local and state history, but also to the history of country music and the legacy of female songwriters.” If you’re interested in American music, you’re interested in the fate of the Cindy Walker House.