Don Edwards, a premier performer of old-time ballads and cowboy songs, returns to the New Mexico History Museum Auditorium at 2 pm on Sunday, October 18, performing The Legend of Jack Thorp. Tickets for Edwards’ performance are $25 and will go on sale Sept. 1 at the History Museum Shop; call (505) 982-9543 or go to www.newmexicocreates.org.
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In this musical adventure, Edwards tells the story of Jack Thorp, born Nathan Howard Thorp in New York City in 1867. While still in his teens he came to New Mexico and became a working cowboy. One night in 1889 while hunting stray horses, he rode into a camp of black cowboys. As the campfire flickered he heard a banjo-playing cowboy singing about a steel-dust cutting horse, “the fastest one in Texas—name of Dodgin’ Joe.” The banjo-playing cowboy knew only two verses of the song. Jack became so interested in finding the rest of the song (and others like it) that he quit hunting horses and started hunting cowboy songs.
Starting in March of 1889 to the spring of 1890 Thorp traveled 1,500 miles on horseback through Texas and New Mexico—the first ballad-hunting adventure in the cowboy domain. Along the way, Thorp collected many songs and even wrote a few himself, the most famous being “Little Joe the Wrangler,” one of the most popular cowboy songs of all time.
Thorp’s history-making journey resulted in the publication of Songs of the Cowboys, printed in 1908 in the small town of Estancia, NM. This was not only the first published collection of cowboy songs ever, but the first published collection of American folk music of any kind. And it is here where Jack Thorp’s trail leads to the New Mexico History Museum.
In 1970, the museum took possession of the Estancia press, and today it can be seen in the Palace Press, where it is still in operation. In 2012, Palace Press Director Tom Leech crafted a new version of Thorp’s book, with end papers fashioned from gramma grass, an introduction by historian Mark Lee Gardner and illustrations by Ronald Kil. The limited-edition book won the Carl Hertzog Award for Excellence in Book Design from the University of Texas at El Paso’s Friends of the Library.
“Modest as it is, that first edition of Songs of the Cowboys is a national treasure,” Leech said. “It took nearly 20 years of collecting and writing for Jack to get his manuscript to the printer, so our years of work on this new edition seemed well worth the effort. As Westerners we feel we owe Jack Thorp a great debt, which we tried to repay with a book that would make him proud, or at least, earn his blessing.”
Don Edwards is determined to see to it that the legacy of Jack Thorp and all the old-time cowboys he rode with thrive in the annals of American history. A historian, author and musicologist, he has been nominated for a Grammy and enjoys national popularity for his authentic recreations of cowboy lore and musical traditions. Gifted with a rich voice and engaging stage presence, he has two recorded anthologies of cowboy songs: Guitars & Saddle Songs and Songs of the Cowboy, which were combined into the 32-song double-CD set, Saddle Songs, winner of the Best Folk/Traditional Album at the 1998 INDIE Awards. The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City has awarded him six prestigious Wrangler Awards for Outstanding Traditional Western Music, as well as the Chester A. Reynolds Award for his lifetime of work and adding value to the heritage of traditional Western music.
Edwards has presented seminars at Yale, Rice, Texas Christian and other universities. His recordings under the Warner Brothers Western label include Goin’ Back to Texas, Songs of the Trail, The Bard & The Balladeer and West of Yesterday. Most recently, he recorded several albums and released a book, Saddle Songs, with the Western Jubilee Recording Company of Colorado Springs. As an actor, he portrayed Smokey in the film The Horse Whisperer. The conclusion of the 2005 Werner Herzog film, Grizzly Man, featured Edwards’ recording of “Coyotes.”
The son of a vaudeville magician, Edwards’ professional path has crossed with the likes of John Lomax, Gene Autry, Waddie Mitchell, Nanci Griffith, Michael Martin Murphey, Peter Rowan, Norman Blake and Tony Rice. Learn more about him by clicking here (or log onto www.somagency.com/donedwards).