Tracey E. W. Widiger Laird

Tracey was born in Shreveport to Jimmy Eugene Widiger, an electrician, and Anne Elizabeth Winterrowd Widiger, who worked as a bookkeeper and in human resources at U.S. Postal Service. Her early musical memories are of her mother playing the piano in her grandmother's house. Mrs. Widiger taught "Chopsticks" to Tracey, who sang with her grandmother. Tracey performed in state competitions in junior high school at Caddo Middle Magnet. At Caddo Magnet High School, where she was president of Student Government Association, she played in a jazz ensemble and performed in dramas and musicals. "I loved Shreveport in that there was that thriving festival culture. It was also small enough to be not overwhelming," she recalls of her hometown where she was influenced by music as diverse as country, blues and disco. At Loyola University she concentrated on music theory and history. Soon after earning a Bachelor of Arts degree she married Brandon Wade Laird on June 27, 1992. (They would have two children.) At University of Michigan, Tracey studied ethnomusicology and completed a master's degree in 1992. While researching music in Dominican Republic, the idea struck her of learning how the Red River and its commerce brought to Shreveport new citizens for jobs and the impact on the culture, including music. In 1995 the Lairds moved to Shreveport where Tracey worked as a weekend relief deejay on Saturday and Sunday nights at KWKH AM, while researching her dissertation on Shreveport music. "I could play all this fantastic old music that I just loved," she remarks. "So that really kind of helped, I think, spark that emotional connection between things that were exciting in my childhood and this intellectual interest. I loved the country music from the late '40s through the late '50s." She also interviewed veterans of the Shreveport music business in the mid- to late 20th century. She calls KWKH, a "50,000-watt AM powerhouse" that made Shreveport a place of musical importance. Completing her dissertation, she earned her PhD in 2000 from University of Michigan. Her dissertation was published as a book, Louisiana Hayride: Radio and Roots Music along the Red River (Oxford University Press: London, 2005). Tracey believes that Louisiana Hayride was "the first significant national platform" for Cajun music when Jimmy C. Newman, a singer from south Louisiana, played the show. Although George Jones performed on the Shreveport stage for less than six months, "It was enough, and I think a significant stepping stone in his career from Texas to national stardom," she remarks. Elvis brought to the stage "all of those elements from black and white culture in the area," she asserts. The first announcer ever to tell fans "Elvis has left the building" was Horace Logan. "Geography and media and the story of race were all intertwined for me as reasons why I was drawn to the subject. Plus I really dug all that old music," she says. In 2008 Tracey served as co-editor of Shreveport Sounds in Black and White (University Press of Mississippi, 2008). She now teaches at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia where she serves as Charles Loridan Associate Professor of Music and Chair. Although she still loves the study of Shreveport music, Tracey has turned her attention to Austin City Limits, a study, she asserts, that "is in some ways an extension of this project, because geographically it just move three hundred miles to the southwest." Like Louisiana Hayride, the Austin show captures a "kind of crossroads atmosphere" with white, black, Cajun music and Texas-Mexican cultures. Currently she is writing a book, tentatively entitled Austin City Limits: A Musical Phenomenon. Tracey is deejay of a Tuesday night program on AM 1690 in Atlanta, The Long Drive Home.