The Austin Tejano Trails has been a labor of love for a dedicated group of volunteers committed to preserving the history, diversity, and cultural assets in East Austin.
Manuel Donley is considered a pioneer of Tejano music. An accomplished musician, arranger and composer, Manuel Donley performed in a Tejano orquesta, traditional “Trio” and “Mariachi” ensembles. He’s also composed and performed for movie soundtracks. He taught guitar lessons at Huston-Tillotson College and still gives lessons at his home. His orquesta, Las Estrellas, was formed in 1949 and is famous for its tight horn section, boleros, rancheras, polkas, rock-n-roll, rhythm-and-blues, and big band-swing. Cowboy Donley still performs with them today. Robert Donley was also a musician, playing with his brother’s orquesta and other groups. He was involved in the campaign to shutdown the Holly Power Plant and it is fitting that this park is adjacent to the Holly Power Plant which finally shut down in 2008.
Amazingly Manuel is still active in the Austin musical community. Playing, teaching, and inspiring younger musicians to follow their musical muse. His story is the stuff of Austin legend, a middle school dropout who taught himself to read music and once played for as little as a penny a song. His career was extremely prolific as he recorded more than 150 singles on 16 different record labels and his creativity and longevity continue to inspire in Austin.
Any visitor to Tejano Trail of Music Legends would be remiss to not visit the Cesar Chavez neighborhood that surrounds the trial. In many ways it is a perfect distillation of modern Austin. Beautiful homes built around the turn of the century from old growth longleaf pine sitting beside concrete and glass moderns constructed during the most recent boom of soaring real estate prices and broad gentrification that have characterized the east side for at least a decade. Families who have been in their homes for generations neighboring up with tech kids, entrepreneurs, grad students, bartenders, artists and all manner of expatriates attracted to this neighborhood with deep creative roots.
Cover photo credit: Austin Friends of Traditional Music via Flickr