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Tommy Duncan

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Thomas Elmer Duncan (January 11, 1911–July 25, 1967), better known as Tommy Duncan, was a pioneering American Western swing vocalist and songwriter who gained fame in the 1930s as a founding member of The Texas Playboys. He recorded and toured with bandleader Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys on and off into the early 1960s.

Duncan was born near Whitney, Texas on a large farm into a large and impoverished family of truck farmers. He was one of 14 children. His most profound influences as a young singer were Jimmie Rodgers, Bing Crosby, Emmett Miller and other country and blues musicians. He left home at 13 to sharecrop on a cousin’s farm, and by 1932 was surviving as a busker in Fort Worth singing at a root beer stand. That year he won an audition against 64 other singers to join the Light Crust Doughboys, a popular local band which featured Bob Wills on fiddle. Another man had auditioned who sounded almost exactly like Duncan but was turned down because of his crossed eyes. Duncan was hired after he sang a version of Emmett Miller’s “I Ain’t Got Nobody” and impressed Wills with his yodeling ability and bluesy phrasing. As was common at the time, the Doughboys appeared on a radio show under the sponsorship of a local business, in their case Light Crust Flour. Duncan quickly became a sensation, both on the show and at dances and other appearances.

When bandleader Wills decided to form an independent band, he and Duncan became the creative core of The Texas Playboys.

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