This paper critically listens to the Oral History of the Texas Oil Industry archives, a concatenation of slightly drawling white oilmen recorded in the mid twentieth century. The uniformity of the authorial voices in this archive helps to construct a monolithic white historiography that sanitizes collective memory in Texas. The archive offers insight into the sonic qualities of power in Texas as it is mediated through an idealized Texan identity via accent. In an effort to unsettle the authority of this totalizing Texan identity and its voice, this paper also listens to the history of Creole music as it migrated into Texas and transformed in contact with the state's oil industry. Placing these two different vocal histories together, one self-assured and one characterized by stretching its own limits, interrogates how we listen to the voice in history, attuned to sonic and vocal notations of power as it has alternately been enjoyed or endured.

Visitors to the Houston Museum of Natural Science are beckoned into the Eagle Ford Shale Experience—aka the EFX-3000—a 4D theater with a spaceship-like interior, mechanical seats, and near-seamless surrounding screens that create an immersive media environment. The ship virtually shrinks to microscopic size and journeys into the depths of an abandoned Texas oil well that has been retrofitted for hydraulic fracturing. Here, visitors experience being fracked from within micro-crevices of subterranean shale, inhabiting the position of a drop of oil. They are guided along their journey by a wily Texan computer named Darcy with the voice of a “wildcatter”—the independent oil businessman of Texas lore, unafraid to gamble in drilling exploratory oil wells.

Fracking, like other increasingly intensive modes of extraction in our fraught ecological moment, is a highly toxic and violent process, yet these realities are effaced and soothed by EFX-3000's hyperbolic display and excessive use of spectacle. Spectators feel safe within the enclosure of the ship, manifesting an aesthetic experience invested in notions of containment. Eighty miles east of Houston lies the Golden Triangle—the cities of Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange—named this auspiciously after the 1901 Spindletop oil gusher in Beaumont transformed the region into a petrochemical capital of extraction, refinement, and shipment. But danger lies in such idealizing nomenclatures in an area where environmental toxicities abound. Billy F. Gibbons of the band ZZ Top, born in Houston, once joked that the name Golden Triangle was chosen “because it sounds much more romantic than ‘Petrochemical Wasteland.’”1

Darcy, the wildcatting computer that guides the fracking ride in Houston, performs a specific Texan identity, speaking with a drawl and using stereotypical exclamations—“Yee-haw! Whoa there, Betsy!” These rhetorical structures fit into a historical lineage of technocratic white voices that lay claim to Texan identity and, by extension, ownership of Texas property and the extraction of resources therein. This particular white Texan identity has claimed power in the state since white settlers in Texas fought and won their war for independence in 1835, largely in an effort to maintain slavery. Darcy's accent, as it narrates endless fossil fuel futurity, brings to the fore the politics of the voice within Texas petro-media, and sonic notations of power and race in Texas at large.

Darcy's accent indicates he is at once white, male, and individualist, materializing an essential notion of Texan identity in order to make his totalizing claim to extraction. He is crafted to look like a metal box, with a few components that make the basic form of a face, including lights for eyes and a digital line for a mouth. He is a fully enclosed small computer, individuated to the point of being fully impermeable. Completely dis-embedded from a shared world, Darcy is the epitome of the detached male subject that is the ideal Texan identity. Texas's oil history is narrated by a concatenation of voices like Darcy's—slightly drawling white men—whose recorded recollections of the state's oil boom reside in the Oral History of the Texas Oil Industry archives, collected at midcentury and held at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. The oral history archive, like most local historiography of the industry and like the EFX-3000, commemorates the technological ingenuity of Anglo Texans as they developed new methods for extraction in the frenzied early days of the oil boom. The uniformity of these authorial voices constructs a monolithic white historiography, sanitizing collective memory in Texas and continuing to grant authority to certain Texan voices in claiming ownership of extraction.

In an effort to unsettle the authority of this totalizing Texan identity and its voice, this paper assembles a more expansive aural archive of oil history in the shared borderlands between East Texas and southwest Louisiana. The oil industry brought Louisianan Creoles into Texas during the first half of the twentieth century in search of work, and their musical traditions transformed in contact with urban culture and extractive industries in and around Houston. Listening to these musical and aural texts elucidates violent histories of race and labor omitted from the official archive of Texas's oil history. Further, these unarchived voices challenge the form of the archive itself in its attempt to construct a complete history through amassing empowered voices. The uniformity of voices in this archive parallels the sonic homogeneity of the hydrocarbon industry itself, defined by the steady cadences of modern progress. The EFX-3000 shuttles us into fraught ecological futures, and the practice of fracking it promotes leaves earthquakes in its wake. This paper takes the sonic queues of earthquakes as signals to listen carefully for other frictions in Texas oil history. Listening to minor musical archives for alternative modes of being-in-time might renew these ossified histories and help us imagine an energy future that would diverge from the rhythms of the hydrocarbon past.


“The idea of it is that everybody 'round here plays music or makes songs or something. That's white peoples, colored peoples, that's them funny French talking people … all of 'em got music. You see, the fact of it is, when they go to express what they feeling or what they thinking, they liable to produce music out of it … you can hear and know 'bout things going on. You listen and you know. It's sounding out to give you an understanding.”

—Lightnin' Hopkins on Houston, 19602

Josh Kun has developed the notion of the “aural border” between the United States and Mexico, a site where disqualified and subjugated knowledges unveil “the many multivalent ways the very idea of the border gets constructed and disseminated through sound and music.”3 To Kun, the critical act of listening to music as a site of complex identity formation is a process of acknowledging difference, using it as a lens through which to interpret and describe “the larger social world.”4

The Sabine River is another aural border. Early waves of colonization designated the river as the border between Spain and France. By 1821, after the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican War for Independence, it was designated the border between Mexico and the United States. Since 1836, when white settlers in the Mexican State of Texas won their war of independence, the Sabine has marked the dividing line between Texas and Louisiana. This alluvial border continues to be a nebulous division. The area in Texas that stretches between the Sabine and Houston to its west is often called Louisiana Lapland, where the swampy landscape of southwest Louisiana with its Cajun and Creole cultures floods over into Texas. Many Black Creoles and white Cajuns migrated from Louisiana into Texas during the first half of the twentieth century seeking employment in the booming oil industry. In these industrialized spaces, Creole folk musical traditions blended with urban rhythm and blues to create the musical genre called zydeco. Zydeco is traditionally sung in Louisianan French plaintive wails, often with improvised, forlorn lyrics that stand in contrast to its energetic Afro-Caribbean syncopated (interrupted, off-beat) rhythms. Zydeco stems from a tradition of community house dances and is above all a physical provocation—zydeco musicians take as their priority to call their audiences onto the dance floor.

Texas writer John Graves describes this area of Texas as a dauntingly unfamiliar place, a region that “at times seems foreign to the persons accustomed to the drier prairies, plains, rocky hills, and the dialects of the rest of the state.”5 Graves finds these East Texan voices “foreign” because they defy the dominant understanding of what a Texan should sound like: an accent associated with whiteness. Jennifer Lynn Stoever argues that dominant listening practices in the United States have “disciplined us to process white male ways of sounding as default, natural, normal, and desirable,” while other ways of listening and sounding are deemed aberrant, noisy, and unruly.6 These raced and gendered logics of listening serve to enforce unspoken power dynamics within social relations. If claims to power in Texas have been facilitated through the vocalization of a white, male identity, illustrated by Darcy's mandate to ongoing extraction, this essay attunes itself to heterogeneous voices in these aural borderlands as a feminist methodology. This paper builds on what Roshanak Kheshti describes as feminist sound studies scholarship that takes the form of “an intersectional reconsideration” of overlooked historical actors.7

In 1952, as zydeco music was evolving into its modern form in Houston, a group of self-proclaimed oil pioneers were gathering in Beaumont to commemorate the Spindletop gusher of 1901. Estelle B. Sharp, wife of a driller at Spindletop, determined a need to document the recollections of those gathered and proceeded to fund the Oral History of the Texas Oil Industry (OHTOI) project, which was then officially undertaken by folklorists at the University of Texas at Austin. The OHTOI, like other early oral history projects interested in recording white male elites, is representative of “the documentary impulse of early oral history activity in the United States,” which considers oral histories as evidentiary resources.8 The field of oral history has since departed from these rather conservative origins, embracing the practice as a method for investigating subjectivity and historical memory. Scholars of oral history recognize that, in Alessandro Portelli's words, memory does not represent “a passive depository of facts but an active process of the creation of meanings.”9 Many scholars of oral history revisiting archives attend carefully to the material's origins and funding. Oral history scholar Sam Prendergast considers “the collaborative ways in which interviewees and interviewers produce a particular narrative at a particular moment,” as well as “vocal features like pauses, hesitations, excitement and emphasis” that imbue a narrative with meaning.10 At stake in these practices are modes of listening that are attuned not only to the words spoken but also to the timbre and cadence of the voice itself, conceptualizing this voice as wedded to a specific, embodied, and contingent interview environment. These modes of listening find a parallel in recent scholarship on the role of the voice in documentary film. In contrast to the traditional consideration of the voice in documentary as offering “evidentiary, truth telling, rhetorical, persuasive and authenticating functions,” we can listen to documentary instead for the affective, intersubjective, and political ways voice is deployed.11

Media scholar Pooja Rangan's recent work interrogates “the vestiges of objectivity that inhere in conventional modes of documentary listening” and how these vocal conventions shape “conditions of audibility” that reinforce social hierarchies of race, gender, ability, and even species. These conditions result in “discriminatory habits of listening” in the world at large.12 As the OHTOI continues to be used as an evidentiary resource, the homogeneity of its voices continues to construct a selective historiography. Further, it perpetuates discriminatory habits of listening to both history and contemporary industry, granting authority to white male voices as they continue to claim power over extractive industries and decisions about energy futures.13 The archive, as such, offers insight into the sonic qualities of power in Texas, as it is mediated through an idealized Texan identity via accent. My work lends a critical ear to this archive. Moments of dissonance in the conventional narrative rise up, challenging the archive's claims to constructing a complete history. I compound an analysis of the recordings with recent historical scholarship on race within the Texas petrochemical industry.

If the OHTOI archives voices of power, then zydeco challenges prescribed modes of listening to history. Placing these cultural objects—the OHTOI and the history of Creole music—in conversation here is not meant to generalize or simplify the radically incommensurate social formations that created them. While they share a geography (the borderlands between Texas and Louisiana) as well as a time period (the early to mid-twentieth century, following the Texas oil boom), they were created for different social purposes. One is a set of empowered, white, industrial voices, the other a chorus of musical voices emanating from disempowered communities navigating a violently racist society. Bringing them together is not meant to pitch them in opposition. Rather, the Black musical voice here offers insight into one of many alternative formations of identity in Texas that is not voiced in its official archives, nor represented in mythic claims to a totalizing white Texan identity. While the history of zydeco is not resolutely political, nor did it form in opposition to the oil industry, it is a history that is, in Jill Dolan's words, “usefully emotional.”14 Creole vocalizations, plaintively sung in French patois, often encroach upon inarticulacy, punctuated by high-pitched yells that resist easy translation. Zydeco's hauntingly woeful vocalizations reflect the unstable ground and sites of multiple dislocation from which it reverberates. The vocal fricatives, contingent soundings, and ragged, syncopated time of zydeco defy the steady cadence of the archive and industry alike. Placing these two different vocal histories together, one self-assured and one characterized by stretching its own vocal limits, interrogates, in part, how we listen to the voice in history—how we attune ourselves to sonic and vocal notations of power as it has alternately been enjoyed or endured.


The EFX-3000 sits within the Houston Museum of Natural Science's Weiss Energy Hall, a sprawling and meticulously planned exhibit. Created in 1994, the Hall underwent a $40 million renovation in 2017, in part to accommodate a gallery on hydrofracking. Visitors are seemingly propelled through the space's carefully planned lights, shifting ambient soundscapes, and burnished walls that are unabashedly adorned with the names of major hydrocarbon corporations. The exhibit manifests petro-architecture—“space designed to advance the ideals of oil-fueled modernity at the level of form and sensory experience.”15 The architecture often places spectators in the subject position of the nonhuman resources that extractive industries pilfer—within a giant pipeline or within interstices of subterranean shale, waiting to be fracked. The exhibit induces pleasure via scale-shifting identification with a nonhuman resource as we become oil incarnate. Rather than offering ecological empathy, however, we are placed within the crevices of penetrative and masculinist logics. The EFX-3000 fracking theater is crafted to look like a ship with huge jet engines. The mechanical seats and exoskeleton of the ship are surrounded by an enveloping screen that immerses viewers in a virtual environment (fig. 1). Darcy, the aforementioned Texan computer, is affixed front and center: “The doors are closing, we've got-ta go ahead for dee-parture.” His voice emphasizes the first syllable of certain words and elongates vowels in a gravelly Southern drawl. He refers to the EFX-3000 as a “bucket'a bolts” that he likes to call “Ol' Betsy.” The ship flies out of the museum, soaring over a sparse Texan landscape of homes and fields to a nearby drilling site that Darcy describes as “revitalized”—retrofitted for hydrofracking after its original oil reserves dried up.


At the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the EFX-3000 “descends” into a drill hole. Darcy is affixed to the center-front of the theater. Photo courtesy the author.


At the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the EFX-3000 “descends” into a drill hole. Darcy is affixed to the center-front of the theater. Photo courtesy the author.

The EFX-3000 shrinks to the size of a grain of salt, suddenly face to face with a giant fire ant, then dives into the depths of the earth, finding rusty equipment at the bottom of the original drill hole. “Whoa there, Betsy! Ain't nothin' down here but broken drill bits and disappointment. The vertical well was depleted decades ago, plugged and abandoned.” The EFX-3000 then begins a horizontal trajectory into the Eagle Ford Shale that lies beneath the original reservoir. “Until the right technology came along,” Darcy tells us, “the shale was just another layer of impermeable tombstone.” Spectators experience fracking from a microscopic perspective as the drill hole is encased in steel and perforated with holes. The ship enters into a micro-fracture of the shale before being surrounded by proppants—tiny materials, often sand, that “prop” open interstices of rock and release oil from within them. Darcy exclaims, “Yee-haw! Nothing like Texas Tea, straight from tha' source!”

The EFX-3000 effaces the violent physical force of fracking, offering little indication of the incredible amounts of pressure required to break crevices into sedimented stone, a process that Sara Ann Wylie describes as a “mini-seismic event.”16 Brett Neilson describes fracking's earth-shattering process as a material and symbolic signal of “extraction beyond exhaustion.”17 Darcy's techno-utopian view of the future subsists on a seemingly endless surplus of hydrocarbons. But this notion of surplus is a fiction, and as conventional oil reserves continue to dry up, the EFX-3000 perpetuates a “fevered post-oil dream” that extends beyond the walls of the museum and into daily life in the United States.18 The hyper-mediated space indicates the hyperbole required to efface its desperate, earth-shattering processes. Fracking's methodical fissures would disrupt the ride's sleek, contained narrative.

The EFX-3000 follows in a legacy of simulation rides that, Lauren Rabinovitz explains, intend to elicit “perpetually felt wonder at the apparatus” and its capacity to summon new and vertiginous points of view.19 The apparatus of the EFX-3000 invites spectators to feel protected within its enclosure as it navigates, and conquers, a foreign frontier. This hermetically sealed environment idealizes an aesthetics of containment that, Janine MacLeod argues, shares an affinity with petrochemicals at the level of their incredibly stable molecular structures. The material properties of hydrocarbons, MacLeod notes, articulate existential anxieties at the core of the Enlightenment project that seek an invulnerable body: “unitary, smooth, discrete.”20 If petrochemical reliance augments the Enlightenment virtues of durability, then Darcy materializes the ideal subject of petro-culture. A disembodied, mechanical oilman, he is ostensibly impermeable within his plastic encasing. Requisite to these fantasies of impermeability, MacLeod argues, is a disassociation of human life from broader ecosystems. That Darcy vocalizes a specific identity from within his container gives form to a long environmental history in Texas in which white men have seen land foremost as a commodity.

Darcy is an apex to a long legacy of idealized Texan archetypes in popular culture, men that Texas film historian Don Graham describes as composite figures of “bluff, bluster, new money, and un-bridled Anglo-Saxonism.”21 Darcy's voice—boisterous, rough, masculine, with a country accent—melds the cowboy and the wildcatter. The oil-prospecting wildcatter extends the project of the colonial cowboy, defined by his hypermasculine fearlessness and ability to accumulate wealth in an unknown frontier. Beenash Jafri aligns the figure of the cowboy with settler-colonial desires, including “freedom, modernity, and independence” as well as a white racialization.22 The fracking boom's new generation of wildcatters are sometimes referred to as shale cowboys.23 Their faith in ongoing hydrocarbon futurity subsists on a valorizing industrial historiography of white male ingenuity.

The traditional historical narrative of the East Texas oil boom, historian Wallace McFarlane explains, celebrates the early oil field “as a place of unlimited, albeit chaotic, opportunity.”24 This narrative motivated the inception of the OHTOI. The oral history project described its primary goal as to “record on tape the oral memoirs of persons who have first-hand knowledge of the history or lore of the early oil industry in Texas” in order to “place on record the truth about oil pioneers in Texas.”25 The resulting 218 interviews, recorded on the then newly invented tape recorder, were largely conducted by University of Texas at Austin folklorists and historians Mody C. Boatright and William A. Owens between 1952 and 1960 (fig. 2).


Mody C. Boatright, left, and another oral historian working on the Oral History of the Texas Oil Industry in 1954. Courtesy the Oral History of the Texas Oil Industry Records, di_11885, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.


Mody C. Boatright, left, and another oral historian working on the Oral History of the Texas Oil Industry in 1954. Courtesy the Oral History of the Texas Oil Industry Records, di_11885, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

The OHTOI began under pretenses similar to those of Allan Nevins's Oral History Project founded at Columbia University in 1948. Nevins, who was fixated on recording elites, is credited as institutionalizing the discipline of oral history even though his conservative practices have come under recent scrutiny. “For Nevins,” Daniel Kerr explains, “oral histories were evidentiary documents that needed to be preserved so that future historians could draw on them to produce better histories.”26 William A. Owens, a Texan folklorist, was teaching at Columbia University when he was hired as a codirector of the Texas oral history project. In a 1951 letter to Winnie Allen, an archivist overseeing the project at UT Austin, he noted, “Since Allan Nevins' study is next to mine, I feel myself influenced somewhat by the work he is doing” and recommended they name their project “Oral History” in the spirit of Nevins. Winnie Allen wondered, in response, if Nevins had copyrighted the term.27 Their exchange reveals their restrictive conception of the practice as ascribed to a single patriarch. Kerr has recently traced oral history's more radical lineages, even if they were not named as such at the time.28

The interviewees were nearly all white men (in a few cases, their wives were interviewed instead). The conversations occasionally touch upon race in the early oil fields, and the interviewees offer abundant racist remarks. The subject of race, however, is not critically examined in either the interviews or the archive's supplemental news clippings and brochures. The focus remains largely on technological and biographical details. The homogeneity of voices in this institutionalized history exhibits the infamously selective quality of Texas historiography at large, leading to the “suffocating power” of Anglo memory in the state.29 The disparaging statements of these white voices, relayed here alongside recent critical race scholarship, demonstrate the suppressive violence of this monolithic historiography.

Oil burst into Texas in 1901 when drillers in Beaumont experimented with a heavier rotary drill bit that brought forth the Spindletop gusher, the largest one the world had yet seen. James W. Kinnear, interviewed by William A. Owens in 1953, recalls that when the gusher blew, he, like many current residents, had “no conception of what [oil] meant.”30 Until then oil had been used primarily as a lubricant or for lighting, but Spindletop's immensity suddenly made the notion of never-ending oil possible, and the modern petroleum age commenced. Upon hearing the gusher's roar, “some of the folks thought the world was coming to an end.” Oil spewed one hundred feet in the air for nine days before the men devised a way to plug it. John H. Wynne, interviewed in 1960, remembers oil covering the prairie's grass and cows for five miles.31 This gusher, still so revered in Texas memory that it is regularly re-created in Beaumont using water, was in fact (like all gushers) a spectacular event of waste and ecological destruction.32 Beaumont's population tripled in two months, from approximately nine thousand to thirty thousand, and the Spindletop bonanza prompted wildcatting all over the Gulf Coastal Plain. Texas's economy was transformed almost instantly from one dominated by agriculture to one dominated by oil and its requisite industries of shipbuilding and refinement. By the 1930s, half of the world's total oil production was happening within six hundred miles of Houston.33

In a 1953 recording, background static clicks on. After a few seconds, William Owens's voice introduces the tape: “This is an interview with Mr. Redman in the Beaumont Hotel, July 20, 1953.”34 Speaking with a slight Southern drawl, Owens emphasizes the first syllable of July: Joo-lie. Redman quickly cuts in, asking, “Am I close enough to it?” Redman's voice is rougher and his drawl is more pronounced than Owens's, but both speak in a steady cadence, their words progressing assuredly. “You're in fine shape,” Owens replies. Redman arrived in Beaumont just months after Spindletop blew to work as a roughneck (oil rig laborer). He remembers, “There wasn't nothing at Spindletop but boarding houses and saloons and gambling houses.” He describes the convivial relationship he shared with his fellow roughnecks and bosses. Owens asks, with a hint of hesitation, “Well, what about trouble between white people and Negroes?” Before he finishes the question, Redman answers energetically: “They didn't allow a n***** on the hill—didn't allow a n***** to haul a load of lumber out there even.” He didn't hear of any trouble between the two groups because the latter simply wasn't allowed within the city limits. “The n***** lived in the lower woods you know, stayed down there.” A small affirmation is heard from Owens before he asks Redman about the relationship between Northerners and Southerners at the time. Redman's recollections give resonance to the sonic qualities of the boomtown, a site in which violent enforcement of segregation ensured that the only voices resonating within it were white ones.

Systemic structures of racial hierarchy prohibited people of color from accessing the bounties of the early oil field. Wallace McFarlane explains that the capital required to undertake a drilling project enabled white Southerners to completely exclude Black Southerners from the industry, marking “a sharp break from the labor practices of southern agriculture, where the need for cheap labor trumped racism.”35 The oil industry and the structures of Jim Crow racism aided and abetted each other's respective discriminatory patterns. Owens asks Kinnear, “What happened to the Negro laborer during that period?” Kinnear relays that after some African Americans gained employment in the nearby oil field at Sour Lake, white roughnecks chased them out of town: “I mean they scattered them Negroes out of there. They went out of there like blackbirds leaving a cornfield.” Kinnear, speaking in a rapid, stuttering, slightly drawling voice, distantly recalls this story. Its details are unclear but his racist metaphors are vivid. Asked why this violence occurred, Kinnear muses that the roughnecks likely “just decided they wanted to get some excitement.”

The second largest discovery of oil after Spindletop occurred in Goose Creek, the area that is now Baytown, a small city near Houston. Black and Latino entrance into the labor force was met with violent resistance here as well. Oilman Fred Jennings describes the Ku Klux Klan presence in Baytown in the 1920s, reflecting in general a large Klan presence in Texas in the 1920s: “Well, they was all oil field workers, the Ku Klux, and anti-Ku Klux,” he muses. The KKK members, he describes, “whipped them, tarred and feathered them, throwed them out on the streets and—it was rough —didn't last too long.” He pauses before confidently asserting, “Still, that made conditions better, much better.”36 Jennings does not specify whom the KKK presence benefited. Critical race scholar John D. Márquez describes that many white residents justified KKK presence in Baytown as a form of law enforcement as well as guardians against “crumbling Victorian standards” during this time of tremendous change.37 Owens, while interviewing Jennings, asks two brief questions about the KKK presence before changing the subject: “Did you ever bring in a gusher yourself?”

Oil derricks quickly crowded the East Texas landscape like trees in a forest. When the enormous amounts of drilling in the region caused prices to plummet, many white workers departed East Texas in search of more productive fields, and laborers of color were hired to fill the new vacancies. From World War I onward, “a giant complex of petroleum refineries [and] an equally large collection of petrochemical plants” transformed the Gulf coastline into the nation's refining capital.38 At the Humble Refinery work site in Baytown, Márquez recounts that Black and Latino workers performed “the most grueling jobs of building roads from the refinery tanks to the docks where ships could be unloaded of cargo and loaded with crude or refined oil.” These jobs were the least desirable and took place in the most toxic terrain. Workers of color were also, Márquez describes, denied opportunity to take aptitude tests required for promotion.39

In midcentury Houston, in the midst of this rapid industrial expansion, historian Bernadette Pruitt describes that “a new cultural construct of Blackness began to surface” fostered by a generation of Black Texan and Creole artists and musicians, many of whom migrated to the city from rural East Texas and southwest Louisiana.40 Many of these migrants were leaving lives of sharecropping. Sharecroppers were often trapped into cycles of debt due to corrupt loan systems, tying them to year after year of backbreaking work.41 East Texas blues guitarist and singer Mance Lipscomb, who lived his entire life in Navasota, Texas, described little difference between sharecropping and slavery: “I was in slavery right up to 1942 … sharecropping, yeah.”42

“Creole” is a notoriously slippery word across scholarly disciplines. Keith Cartwright describes, “The word ‘creole’ marks a countercultural black authority born of traumas of dislocation unaccredited in Western thinking.”43 “Creole” refers here to Black communities in Louisiana who speak French and share an African or Afro-Caribbean lineage. Some Creoles share lineage to the slave class, while some migrated to the United States as gens de couleur libre (free people of color) after the Haitian revolution of 1791. Creoles of Louisiana share a francophone culture with the region's white Cajuns. “Cajun” is derived from “Acadian,” referring to Acadie, the French colony of Nova Scotia that Cajuns fled following eighteenth-century British colonization. This rural, swampy region of Louisiana remained relatively isolated until the late nineteenth century. Cajuns, who were generally not wealthy and did not maintain plantations, often also worked as sharecroppers. The class affinity between Creoles and Cajuns allowed for a degree of cross-pollination between cultures, especially in their musical traditions. This class affinity, however, did not overcome the reigning system of white supremacy in the postbellum and Jim Crow South, where Black Creoles endured systemic intimidation as the cotton economy plummeted.44

The entrance of people of color into the Texas oil industry workforce is largely unrecognized in the oral history archive. This absence is a meaningful silence given the archive's claim to be a historiographical foundation. Winnie Allen, in a 1952 letter to Estelle B. Sharp, states this claim comprehensively: “The tapes safeguard these invaluable experiences in the voices of the people who made the history.”45 In a 1952 letter to Winnie Allen, Owens describes that with the help of Allan Nevins he created a file system for the research. He hoped “the card file on personalities would eventually be the beginning point for all research on Texas oil history.”46 Owens understood history as information to be amassed and archived, here through the collected recollections of white elites. Listening to these voices as the architects of history lends authority to Darcy's contemporary voice as it speciously narrates endless fossil fuel futurity. At stake in this formula is a consideration of the voice as a stable and authoritative vehicle for information transmission from within an individuated subject.

Listening to the history of Creole music alongside this oral history forefronts alternative modes of listening. East Texas blues musician Sam Lightnin' Hopkins asserted in 1960 that listening to the music emanating from midcentury Houston offered insight into the thoughts and feelings of the people there: “You listen and you know. It's sounding out to give you an understanding.”47 Hopkins's provocation points us toward a different type of listening to history, one in which music offers insight into identity formation as it reverberates sonically from within fraught but vibrant social landscapes. Lisbeth Lipari describes a mode of “listening otherwise,” an ethical attunement that privileges compassion—being together with—over understanding and “takes us beyond the self and out to the groundlessness and ambiguity of the radical alterity of the other.”48 Listening otherwise to Texas industrial history lends an ear to Creole music as it migrated into the state, attuned to the multivalent evocations of this music's sonorous qualities that are themselves insights into, in Hopkins's words, “things goin' on.”


“Moi, j'suis parti à puit d'huile, pour aller au bal / Pour allerau bal, c'est voir, ô, ouais, les jolies femmes / C'est là-bas il faut tu vas / O, c'est beau!” (For me, I'm leaving the oil fields and going to the dance / Going to the dance, to see, oh yeah, pretty women / You must go there / O, how beautiful!)

—Amédé Ardoin, “La Valse des Chantiers Pétroliféres” (Waltz of the Oil Field), 1934

Around 1950, shortly before the OHTOI was initiated, Lightnin' Hopkins entered a recording booth at Gold Star Studio in Houston and recorded a song called “Zolo Go.”49 The song reflects the developing cultural contact between Black Texans and Creoles of color as they migrated into the city. Hopkins plays an organ in a staccato style that imitates an accordion. He announces that he's going to “zydeco a little while for you folks.” He sings in a deep and full voice of a “zydeco dance goin' on,” describing a woman who needs to go “zydeco” as an escape from hard times. The song is one of the first recordings of this versatile Creole word: one can listen to zydeco (music), attend a zydeco (dance party), and zydeco (dance) all night long. “Zolo Go,” Tyina Steptoe argues, offers “a sonic snapshot of postwar Fifth Ward,” a reference to the neighborhood of Houston also known as Frenchtown that was founded in the 1920s by Louisianan Creoles.50 In 1950, Texan folklorist Mack McCormick wandered through Frenchtown, following flyers reading “zarico” or “zologo” to witness musical performances that were fast-paced, accordion driven, and accompanied by improvised French lyrics and energetic dance parties.51 He was the first to write the word “zydeco” in reference to this mixture of traditional Louisiana Afro-Creole music—often called la la—and amplified Texan rhythm and blues. McCormick noticed a repeated hand gesture dance move that, he thought, mimicked the breaking apart of snap beans.52

A signature instrument of zydeco music is a corrugated metal vest called le frottoir, from the French verb “to rub” (fig. 3). The instrument was first crafted at an oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, at the request of the Black Creole musician Clifton Chenier, later dubbed the King of Zydeco. The frottoir's origin story is evidence that zydeco “is a genre born out of migration” spurred not exclusively, but largely, by the oil industry.53 The frottoir descends from Afro-Caribbean percussive traditions maintained in slave communities where, due to lack of traditional instruments (or rules forbidding their use), musicians scraped instead the corrugated surfaces of washboards or animal jawbones.54 Born in Opelousas, Louisiana, in 1925, Chenier moved in 1947 to Port Arthur, where he worked at the Gulf Oil Refinery by day and played Creole accordion by night, accompanied by his older brother Cleveland on the washboard. The brothers, after a workday, would often play for tips at the gates of oil refineries as crowds of fellow laborers passed by.55 In Les Blank's 1989 documentary J'ai été au bal (I Went to the Dance), Clifton Chenier explains (in voice-over) their idea to turn the traditional washboard into a wearable instrument:

They used to have a rubboard—one 'em old rubboards you wash clothes with. Used to tie a string around it, ya know, and put it 'round your neck. So I went on to a white fella down there at the Gulf Oil Refinery and I told him, I say, “You got some tin?” He say, “Yeah.” So I go down on the ground in the sand and I draw that rubboard and I said, “Can you make one like that, and you know put a collar to it?” He said, “Sure I can make one like that,” and he made one.

Chenier tends to emphasize the last word or syllable of a sentence, a feature inherited from French. He relays the story melodically, the lines of dialogue forming a rhythm. The mechanic Chenier mentions was white Cajun metalworker Willie Landry, another Louisianan migrant. The frottoir is one of the few nonelectronic musical instruments to be invented in the modern United States, born out of a migratory meeting of culture and industry occasioned at a Texas oil refinery. The frottoir changed the trajectory of modern zydeco. The versatile design allowed for the player to use two hands, thus enabling more complex rhythms, and to change the pitch of the sound by leaning forward and back to vary the amount of space between the chest and the board.


The frottoir, invented at an oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, by the brothers Clifton and Cleveland Chenier. Photo courtesy the author.


The frottoir, invented at an oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, by the brothers Clifton and Cleveland Chenier. Photo courtesy the author.

Clifton Chenier eventually moved farther west, to Houston, where he met Lightnin' Hopkins. Hopkins, the grandchild of slaves and the son of East Texan sharecroppers, had moved to Houston in the 1930s. He and Chenier formed a tight partnership. The event of “an English-speaking guitar player from Texas and the French-speaking accordion player from Louisiana” performing on stage together, often in friendly competition, speaks to the multivalent and diverse formations of cultural blackness in midcentury Houston.56

In 1965, Clifton and Cleveland recorded their song “Zydeco Sont Pas Salés.”57 The phrase stems from the common Creole expression “les haricots sont pas salés” (the snap beans aren't salted) (les haricots is often pronounced “z'haricots”). Literally, the phrase refers to an inability to afford salt (or salted meat) for seasoning snap beans, a vegetable grown by Black Creole farmers. As a folk metaphor it refers to poverty and evokes emotional deprivation, a prevalent theme in zydeco lyrics.58 Zydeco, like the blues, thematizes hard times in an effort to “ease the pain.”59

The phrase “les haricots sont pas salés” was first recorded by folklorist Alan Lomax in 1934 in a Baptist church in Jennings, Louisiana. The eighteen-year-old Lomax was on an epic trip through the US South with his father, John, during which time they recorded thousands of Black folk songs. Funded by the Library of Congress, the father and son carted around a three-hundred-pound aluminum disk recorder housed in their Model A Ford. Alan ventured into a Jennings church without his father one evening. In his notes for the 1987 reissue of the recordings, Lomax describes that a group of young Black men and women began to dance in circles around each other before he had finished setting up his equipment. A trio of singers, one of whom would lead with improvised lines while the others overlapped in repeated refrains, “clapped and beat a red-hot polyrhythmic accompaniment” that sounded to Lomax like African drums.60 A fight broke out at the peak of the rowdy session, and Lomax hastily left.

Lomax had witnessed a raucous juré, the pre-instrumental, improvisational music from which zydeco descends. Stemming from the French verb jurer (to testify), the juré was “a localized form of the African American ‘ring shout,’ consisting of a counterclockwise procession accompanied by antiphonal singing and the shuffling, stamping, and clapping of the dancers, occasionally supplemented by simple percussion such as the ubiquitous metal-on-jawbone scraper.”61 These percussive song and dance performances often occurred on Saturday nights in slave communities in East Texas and Louisiana. Antiphonal call-and-response singing is a West African tradition echoed in Black farm and prison work songs. Mack McCormick elaborates that the improvisation of antiphonal singing resists easy transcription: “Like the jazzman who first sets the fundamental melody and then elaborates on it, the work song is liable to both progressive change in the melody and infinite, associative weaving of ideas … spiraling off in all directions, other interpretations. It is easy to understand, impossible to analyze without reducing the ideas to mere words.”62 Participants in ring shouts, like jazz musicians, engage in a mode of listening and singing that is not a “tennis match where the back-and-forth exchange transports meanings,” but rather “an unfolding process that carries its participants through a shared ocean of meaning” in which each person “abides entirely in the present.”63 McCormick names the contradiction of documenting these performances, in which the folklorist carefully preserves “an art that only obtains life through direct human contact.”64 Paul Gilroy, in The Black Atlantic (1993), describes an “ethics of antiphony” encompassed by Black musical expression as it emerged out of the most abject chattel slavery: “There is a democratic, communitarian moment enshrined in the practice of antiphony which symbolises and anticipates (but does not guarantee) new, non-dominating social relationships.”65

Recent scholarship in folklore studies has challenged the Lomaxes' claims to impartiality and the impact their positionality as white folklorists had on the performances they recorded.66 Lomax, like the folklorists involved in the OHTOI, employed a type of listening that regarded the voice as evidence, whether historical or cultural. Lomax's recordings nonetheless offer insight into alternative modes of listening that are invested in contingent relationships prompted by immediate, shared articulations.

A young man named Jimmy Peters leads the group in the 1934 Jennings recording. One song, “J'ai Fait Tout le Tour Du Pays” (I Went All Around the Land), consists of a fast-paced, dense background of claps, stomps, and growls.67 Peters sings an old Louisiana French song lamenting his disheveled appearance, his worn hat, his torn suit. The lyrics are underscored by the refrain “O yé yaie! les haricots sont pas salés” (O yé yaie, the snap beans aren't salty). The high-pitched cry “Oh yé yaie” is a common interjection in Cajun and Creole music. Cajun fiddler Dewey Balfa, when asked about this characteristic yell, relayed a story that in the bayous of Louisiana, when you “hear a yell like that” and “somebody yell back … you can be sure that he's lost too. … When you yell like that, you're just letting your heart out.”68 The voice here doesn't transmit logocentric information but seeks to resonate an inner state that evades words. As Jimmy Peters repeats the phrase, “O yé yaie! les haricots sont pas salés,” another singer inserts vocal fricatives (hoarse growls) that interrupt Peters's melody, creating overlapped but disjointed rhythms. The recording illustrates what Brent Hayes Edwards calls the “methodologic fissures” foregrounded in Black musical expression, “not just in terms of broken or doubled voices, however, but also in terms of time—in the ways it espouses polyrhythm and the subtle syncopated propulsion.”69 This syncopation is a signature of what would later be called zydeco music.

The introduction of the accordion into this largely pre-instrumental blend of polyrhythm and plaintive singing commenced the genre of music called la la, a style popularized by the acclaimed Creole singer and accordionist Amédé Ardoin (fig. 4). Born in 1898 to a family of ex-slave sharecroppers in Eunice, Louisiana, Ardoin opted out of the hard labor of farming at a young age—he was notorious for falling asleep in the field—and pursued a career in music instead, an unprecedented decision at the time. Musician and folklorist Michael Doucet credits Ardoin as anchoring the blues in French folk music.70 Music historian Tony Russell argues that Ardoin's music's deepest impression is “of a spirit near the end of its tether … in a phrase that recurs in virtually every song … tout seul—all alone.”71 In a 1934 commercial recording of “Les Blues de la Prison,” his anguished singing, punctuated at times by a wailed yaille, overtakes any sense of the time signature kept by his accordion.72


The only known image of Amédé Ardoin, taken around 1912. Public domain.


The only known image of Amédé Ardoin, taken around 1912. Public domain.

A Cajun dance hall owner described the emotional power of Ardoin's singing: “His voice could go through you. He could play some music, every woman in the dance hall would cry. They'd stop dancing. Sat down and wiped the tears.” He recalls that Ardoin could seemingly command an audience like magic: he would improvise lyrics in the moment that would rile up a crowd to near boiling, then follow it with a religious song “that would calm them down, right there.”73 Between 1929 and 1934 Ardoin recorded seventeen two-sided 78 rpm records for a handful of labels, some of the first commercial recordings of Creole music. His singing, anguished past the point of articulacy, interrogates the capabilities—and failures—of the voice to communicate despair that is beyond logocentric representation. Ardoin's vocalizations approach what literary critic Nathaniel Mackey describes as the “telling inarticulacy” in improvised Black musical forms.74 Brent Hayes Edwards elaborates on Mackey's overall concern with “the limits of voice—its inception, its exhaustion” in Black expressive culture.75 Black culture, according to Edwards, often makes a formal critique of the capacity of language itself, given that “we don't ever speak from secure ground.” It “inheres in the way it breaks, it inheres in the way it's open to outside influence and even to disruption. It inheres in the way it doesn't try to hide the fact that articulations are contingent, aren't natural or permanent: indeed, it prizes that contingency, those unexpected cuts and changes.”76 Ardoin's “La Valse des Chantiers Pétrolifères” (Waltz of the Oil Field) features lyrics that narrate a solitary meandering between oil field and dance hall.77 The song ends with Ardoin again singing “Moi, j'suis tout seul, mon je m'en vas à puit d'huile / Je vas jamais encore revenir pour moi,” (all alone, headed to the oil field, never to return). Ardoin never worked in an oil field; a Black person typically wouldn't have been allowed to work on an oil rig at the time. Nevertheless, in his lyrics and plaintive singing, the oil field is a site of displacement and loneliness that stands in figurative opposition to the beauty of the dance hall.

Ardoin famously pushed the racial boundaries of his time. He performed and recorded music with the white Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee, and McGee played backup fiddle in Ardoin's recordings.78 Ardoin often performed in white Cajun dance halls, where he made higher wages, but his presence was violently controversial. He once performed inside a chicken-wire pen to protect him from the white men in the club.79 In the late 1930s, after playing at a white family's party, Ardoin was attacked and severely beaten. While explanations for the attack vary, the most common story relays that some white men were angered when a white woman, a daughter of the house, lent her handkerchief to Ardoin to wipe the sweat from his face. Ardoin was left with brain damage and broken vocal cords.

Ardoin's lyrics often lamented his status as an orphan, or his broken heart. He would repeat, in verse, “I have no home to go to.” Patricia Peknik describes how countless Cajun and Creole songs from the first half of the twentieth century “document over and over again stories of separation from loved ones,” such as Joe Falcon's 1929 “Quand je suis parti pour le Texas” (When I Left to Go to Texas). The lyrics, sung earnestly and sorrowfully, narrate a mother's heartbreak at the departure of her son. Peknik describes that “the solitude and misery of being orphaned, either literally or metaphorically, through estrangement,” is an enduring theme of French Louisianan music, both Cajun and Creole.80 Cajun musicians Angeles Lejeune and Ernest Fruge's song “La Valse de Texas” bemoans displacement in Texas as the cause of a brokenhearted misery. The OHTOI's oilmen often narrate their proud and secure migration to Texas, often from Northern states, in pursuit of wealth. In contrast, Cajun and Creole music often frames Texas as a site of despair and dislocation relayed not only in their lyrical topoi but in their articulations that often fracture and break.

Ardoin's narration of itinerant orphanhood became literal at the end of his life. He was last seen wandering the highway, as he often did, but this time without his accordion on his back in a flour sack. He had no idea where he was going, and he was soon after sent to an asylum in central Louisiana, where he died.81 The location of his grave remains unknown but has been a subject of recent speculation.

Ardoin's syncopated accordion lay foundational groundwork for the music that would evolve into zydeco in Texas, popularized largely through Clifton Chenier. Roger Wood describes, “At black Creole house dances throughout the upper Gulf Coast region, the old style acoustic la la personified by Ardoin began to change even more in the late 1940s” as Creoles came in contact with urban blues and R&B.82 Chenier's 1965 song “Zydeco Sont Pas Salés” popularized the name of the new genre. Chenier's most personal song, “I'm Coming Home,” recorded in 1970, was written shortly before he returned to his hometown of Opelousas, marking the end of his displacement in Texas. The song takes the form of a letter to his mother, sung in English: “'Cause I feel, you know I feel oh so all alone / I'm coming back home and meet my dear old mother / 'Cause that's where I belong.” Les Blank's documentary film Hot Pepper (1973) features Chenier playing the song to a small but crowded dance hall, followed by a cinematic montage of the reedy, swampy bayou where he has returned. In the film, Chenier is jovial and smiling, proudly touring through his hometown. In a rare solemn moment, he tells the camera that his mother died before she could hear “I'm Coming Home.”


As rural communities migrated into urban regions of Texas in search of industrial employment, they entered a dramatically different sonic environment. Brian Harnetty describes the sonic homogeneity of extractive industries, including the uniform sounds of drilling equipment that “signal an infrastructure of transnational money and power.” These imposed soundscapes serve to drown out and silence “any sonic senses of ‘local.’”83 Port Arthur, Texas, today contains one of the largest networks of refineries in the world. Each one emits a deafening roar—the combined din of their blowers, turbine pumps, gas compressors, and high-power pumps.84 These refineries loom over the west side of the city's public housing developments, and the impacts of their toxic emissions, including carcinogens, are endured disproportionately by the city's Black residents.

The voices in the oral history archive, as they proudly narrate industrial development, are granted authority by a belief in the steady progress of modernity. This same progressive drive propels the narrative of the EFX-3000 as it shuttles along a tidy teleology of fossil fuel futurity that is, itself, built upon fictions of surplus. The sleek aesthetics of containment of the EFX-3000 are supported by a techno-utopian historiography, narrated by the empowered, individuated, white voices contained in the OHTOI. In the face of climate crisis of existential proportions, should we continue to listen to the voices who have architected this reality, the voices who benefit from ongoing environmental destruction? If these white oilmen's voices, and the bleak ecological futures they portend, have ossified into the authoritative tomes of Texas history, we might listen to minor archives to renew and revivify not only Texas cultural history but possibilities to imagine alternative futures. Laura Junka-Aikio and Catalina Cortes-Severino argue that thinking critically past extractivist paradigms requires “problematizing the modern temporality of progress and development, in order to create and reveal other forms of being-in-time” that are open to the ahistorical, the contingent, and hence the possibility of alternative futures.85

Zydeco's etymology reveals local ecological orientations. Nicholas Spitzer describes that les haricots, snap beans, were “a basic garden food” that provided “a metaphor in proverbial expression for how life is going.” Two people meeting in public might ask, “Tu vas faire zarico?” (Will you have snap beans to eat?) to which someone might reply, “Ouais, mais zarico sont pas salés” (Yeah, but there's no salt [meat] to flavor those beans), an ironic way to state that they will survive, but barely.86 Zydeco dances, as well, might be considered a form of coming together as a mode of survival; if snap beans hold cultural significance, we might consider zydeco as a metaphorical form of salt. Revolving around the frottoir's complex, gritty polyrhythms and the howling vocalizations that stir fervent dancing, these performances “intensify and playfully build upon the everyday life of home, family, work, and worship,” providing an “aesthetic shape and commentary on Creole values and behavior.”87 These sonic spaces are not based in logics of extraction but rather in cultural celebration and collective embodied improvisation.

In midcentury Port Arthur, Clifton Chenier repurposed materials found at an oil refinery to craft an instrument intended to project a rhythm that, even if unwittingly, disrupted the steady cadences imposed by industry. The frottoir is central to the creation of zydeco's syncopated rhythms. Syncopation, the polyrhythmic style that is signature to many Black musical genres, has been theorized by scholars of Black cultural expression as a mode of temporal disruption. Katherine Biers notes that “syncopation” derives from the word “syncope,” denoting a loss of consciousness from a heart arrhythmia, and also “the loss of letters from within a word … as when ‘never’ is reduced to ‘ne'er,’ or ‘even’ to ‘e'en.’”88 James Weldon Johnson, in 1922, observed that the syncopated beat of call-shout circles materializes “what Negroes call ‘stop time,’” where the “down beat is never lost, but is playfully bandied from hand to foot and from foot to hand.”89 Syncopation is sometimes called “ragged time,” a counterpoint to the steady propulsion of time.

The frottoir, which is worn around the neck rather than held in one hand, can thus be played with both hands (passing can openers or keys over its corrugated surface in simultaneous but disjointed rhythms), allowing the musician to create a more complicated syncopated rhythm than is possible with a washboard or a jawbone. The frottoir is a helpful object for developing a theory of friction and sound that challenges how we listen to extractive industries and their histories. These methodological fissures, like vocal fricatives and disjointed rhythms, evade easy transcription but nevertheless belie the steady cadences and temporalities of industry and progress. As the Chenier Brothers played music outside oil refineries for tips, they projected not only a temporal disruption to the sonic cadence of industry but an invitation for a specific type of listening. These resonances compel us into a mode of listening that is open to contingency, to cuts and changes, and thus to the possibility of alternative routes into an unknown energy future that would diverge from the rhythms of the hydrocarbon past.

Darcy's drawl claims a hegemonic Texan identity designed to legitimize, and profit from, perpetual industrial progression into increasingly unstable grounds. We hear friction, as well, in the earthquakes caused by fracking. Yet, as some sounds continue to evade easy legibility within authoritative Texan codes, we should be wary that not all articulations require translation. Acclaimed Creole fiddler Canray Fontenot was tellingly reticent to define zydeco music at all: “Zydeco, zydeco … I'm going to tell you one thing: there ain't no such thing. Because that's nothing but snap beans.”90


Many thanks to Anila Gill for her help in developing sections of this paper; to Tanya Goldman for her editorial suggestions; and to my uncle Robert Coffey for introducing me to Cajun and Creole music, translating Louisianan French, and photographing his frottoir.


Quoted in Antone's: Home of the Blues, dir. Dan Karlok (2004).


Mack McCormick, liner notes to vol. 2 of Treasury of Field Recordings (1960).


Josh Kun, “The Aural Border,” Theatre Journal 52, no. 1 (2000): 4.


Josh Kun, Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 15.


John Graves, Texas Rivers (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002), 35, my emphasis.


Jennifer Lynn Stoever, The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening (New York: New York University Press, 2016), 12.


Roshanak Kheshti, “Sound Studies,” Feminist Media Histories 4, no. 2 (2018): 179.


Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson, “Critical Developments: Introduction,” in The Oral History Reader, ed. Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson (New York: Routledge, 2015), 24.


Alessandro Portelli, The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1991), 52.


Sam Prendergast, “Listening for Women's Narratives in the Harvard Project Archive,” History Workshop Journal 86 (2018): 207.


Annabelle Honess Roe and Maria Pramaggiore, “Introduction: Documentary's Vocal Projections,” in Vocal Projections: Voices in Documentary, ed. Annabelle Honess Roe and Maria Pramaggiore (New York: Bloomsbury Academic and Professional, 2018), 2.


Pooja Rangan, “Inaudible Evidence: Counterforensic Listening in Contemporary Documentary Art,” lecture, NYU Tisch School of the Arts Department of Cinema Studies, New York, April 17, 2019.


This and other oral history archives on the oil industry form part of the historical basis for Bobby D. Weaver, Oilfield Trash: Life and Labor in the Oil Patch (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2013).


Jill Dolan, “Performance, Utopia, and the ‘Utopian Performative,’” Theatre Journal 55, no. 3 (2001): 460.


Daryl Meador, “Becoming Oil Incarnate in Houston's Weiss Energy Hall,” Avery Review, no. 40 (2019):


Sara Ann Wylie, Fracktivism: Corporate Bodies and Chemical Bonds (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), xii.


Brett Neilson, “Fracking,” in Depletion Design, ed. Carolin Wiedmann and Soenke Zehle (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures and xm:lab, 2012), 85.


Stephanie LeMenager, Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2014), 167.


Lauren Rabinovitz, “From Hale's Tours to Star Tours: Virtual Voyages and the Delirium of the Hyper-real,” in Virtual Voyages: Cinema and Travel, ed. Jeffrey Ruoff (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 45.


Janine MacLeod, “Holding Water in Times of Hydrophobia,” in Petrocultures: Oil, Politics, Culture, ed. Adam Carlson, Imre Szeman, and Sheena Wilson (Kingston, Canada: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2017), 277.


Don Graham, Cowboys and Cadillacs: How Hollywood Looks at Texas (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1983), 17.


Beenash Jafri, “Desire, Settler Colonialism, and the Racialized Cowboy,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 37, no. 2 (2013): 74.


Shale Cowboys: Fracking under Trump, dir. Nordin Lasfar (Hilversum, the Netherlands: VPRO Documentary, 2017).


Wallace Scot McFarlane, “Oil on the Farm: The East Texas Oil Boom and the Origins of an Energy Economy,” Journal of Southern History 83, no. 4 (2017): 857.


Robert Stephens, “A Guide to the Oral History of Texas Oil Pioneers,” April 1959, box 3N36, Mody Boatright Papers (1896–1970), Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin, hereinafter cited as OHTOI.


Daniel R. Kerr, “Allan Nevins Is Not My Grandfather: The Roots of Radical Oral History Practice in the United States,” Oral History Review 43, no. 2 (2016): 369.


William Owens, letter to W. Allen, December 19, 1951, B14, F5; and Winnie Allen, letter to W. Owens, February 21, 1952, and corresponding response letter dated April 23, 1952, B14 F6, in the William A. Owens Papers, Part One, 1922–1979, Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, College Station, Texas.


Kerr, “Allan Nevins Is Not My Grandfather,” 367–91.


Gregg Cantrell and Elizabeth Hayes Turner, eds., Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2007), 3.


James W. Kinnear, interview by William Owens, 1953, reel 107a, 1952–1960, OHTOI.


John H. Wynne, interview by William Owens, 1960, reel 210, OHTOI.


On the Beaumont Spindletop reenactment see Micah Fields, “Gusher,” Oxford American, no. 104 (2019):


Martin Melosi, “Houston: Energy Capitals,” New Geographies, no. 2 (2009): 97–102.


Frank Redman, interview by William Owens, 1953, reel 113, OHTOI.


McFarlane, “Oil on the Farm,” 866.


Fred Jennings, interview by William Owens, 1952, box 2a1, reel 9a, OHTOI.


John D. Márquez, Black-Brown Solidarity: Racial Politics in the New Gulf South (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014), 97. Márquez cites a local Baytown oral history project.


Martin Melosi and Joseph Pratt, “The Energy Capital of the World? Oil-Led Development in Twentieth-Century Houston,” in Energy Capitals: Local Impact, Global Influence, ed. Joseph A. Pratt, Martin V. Melosi, and Kathleen A. Brosnan (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014), 37.


Márquez, Black-Brown Solidarity, 90.


Bernadette Pruitt, The Other Great Migration: The Movement of Rural African Americans to Houston, 1900–1941 (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2013), 12.


Edward Royce, The Origins of Southern Sharecropping (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993), 187–88.


Quoted in Timothy O'Brien and David Ensminger, Mojo Hand: The Life and Music of Lightnin' Hopkins (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013), 3.


Keith Cartwright, Sacral Grooves, Limbo Gateways: Travels in Deep Southern Time, Circum-Caribbean Space, Afro-Creole Authority (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013), 11.


Michael J. Pfeifer, “Lynching and Criminal Justice in South Louisiana, 1878–1930,” Louisiana History: Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 40, no. 2 (1999): 173.


Winnie Allen, letter to W. B. Sharp, December 30, 1952, Box 3N37, Mody Boatright Papers (1896–1970), Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin, my emphasis.


William Owens, letter to W. Allen, December 5, 1952, B14, F7, William A. Owens Papers, Part One, 1922–1979, Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, College Station, Texas.


McCormick, liner notes.


Lisbeth Lipari, “Listening Otherwise: The Voice of Ethics,” International Journal of Listening 23, no. 1 (2009): 54.


Listen on YouTube at


Tyina Steptoe, Houston Bound: Culture and Color in a Jim Crow City (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015), 198.


Steptoe, Houston Bound, 198.


Michael Tisserand, The Kingdom of Zydeco (New York: Arcade, 1998), 18.


Steptoe, Houston Bound, 203.


On the jawbone instrument see John Jeremiah Sullivan, “Death Rattle,” Oxford American, no. 99 (2017):


Roger Wood, Texas Zydeco (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006), 134.


Steptoe, Houston Bound, 200.


Listen on YouTube at


Wood, Texas Zydeco, 96.


Barry Jean Ancelet, “Zydeco/Zarico: Beans, Blues and Beyond,” Black Music Research Journal 8, no. 1 (1988): 41.


Alan Lomax Collection, Manuscripts, Louisiana Cajun and Creole Music: The Lomax Recordings, 1987,


John Minton, “Houston Creoles and Zydeco: The Emergence of an African-American Urban Popular Style,” American Music 14, no. 4 (1996): 490.


McCormick, liner notes.


Lisbeth Lipari, “Listening, Thinking, Being,” Communication Theory 20, no. 3 (2010): 355.


McCormack, liner notes.


Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (London: Verso, 1993), 79.


See for instance Robert Baron, “‘All Power to the Periphery’: The Public Folklore Thought of Alan Lomax,” Journal of Folklore Research 49, no. 3 (2012): 275–317; Benjamin Filene, “‘Our Singing Country’: John and Alan Lomax, Leadbelly, and the Construction of an American Past,” American Quarterly 43, no. 4 (1991): 602–24.


Cheryl Anne Brauner, “A Study of the Newport Folk Festival and the Newport Folk Foundation” (MA thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1986), 140.


Brent Hayes Edwards, “Notes on Poetics Regarding Mackey's Song,” Callaloo 23, no. 2 (2000): 573.


Michael Doucet, “Amédé Ardoin's Blues,” liner notes of Amédé Ardoin, I'm Never Comin' Back (Arhoolie Records 7007, 1995), CD.


Tony Russell, “Amédé Ardoin,” in The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings (East Rutherford, NJ: Penguin, 2006), 12.


Listen on YouTube at


Quoted in Tisserand, The Kingdom of Zydeco, 59, 60.


Nathaniel Mackey, Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 252–53.


Edwards, “Notes on Poetics Regarding Mackey's Song,” 572.


Brent Hayes Edwards and Charles Rowell, “An Interview with Brent Hayes Edwards,” Callaloo 22, no. 4 (1999): 787–88.


Listen on YouTube at


Roger Wood, “Southeast Texas: Hot House of Zydeco,” Journal of Texas Music History 1, no. 2 (2001): 28.


Tisserand, The Kingdom of Zydeco, 62.


Patricia Peknik, French Louisiana Music and Its Patrons: The Popularization and Transformation of a Regional Sound (New York: Palgrave Macmillan US, 2018), 51, 52.


Tisserand, The Kingdom of Zydeco, 62.


Wood, “Southeast Texas,” 29.


Brian Harnetty, “Earthquakes and Frack-Waste: Sounds of Extraction-Related Disaster in Appalachian Ohio,” Cultural Studies 31, nos. 2/3 (2017): 411.


See Sudheer Wachasunder, “Assessment of Refinery Noise Impact on Workers: A Case Study,” International Journal of Environmental Studies 61, no. 4 (2004): 459–70.


Laura Junka-Aikio and Catalina Cortes-Severino, “Cultural Studies of Extraction,” Cultural Studies 31, nos. 2/3 (2017): 182.


Nicholas Spitzer, “Monde Créole: The Cultural World of French Louisiana Creoles and the Creolization of World Cultures,” in Creolization as Cultural Creativity, ed. Robert Baron and Ana C. Cara (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011), 40.


Spitzer, “Monde Créole,” 40.


Katherine Biers, “Syncope Fever: James Weldon Johnson and the Black Phonographic Voice,” Representations 96, no. 1 (2006): 105.


James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson, The Book of American Negro Spirituals (New York: Viking, 1925), 31.


Tisserand, The Kingdom of Zydeco, 21.