James M. White, founder of Austin dance hall Broken Spoke, dies at 81

A legend in the Austin music scene has died.

James M. White, the owner of the Broken Spoke, has passed away at the age of 81. White had recently undergone surgery for a leaky heart valve, according to the dance hall's Facebook page.

"He had a dream actually dreamed of the Broken Spoke. He wanted a place where people can go dance, have a good time, and listen to kind of music he loved which was a Honky Tonk," said Texas Musician Dale Watson.

"God bless you James White This man is a legend and Austin, Texas and country music is better because of him. He’s up in Honky Tonk Heaven," the Broken Spoke said on Facebook. "What an introduction every body will get as they get to Heaven then he’ll sing a song with them. April 12, 1939 - Jan 24, 2021"

White had been suffering from congestive heart failure since 2000, says the Broken Spoke, which shared a video from White thanking his well-wishers after his surgery in mid-January.

The Broken Spoke has been a staple of the Austin honky-tonk scene since White opened it in 1964. The South Austin native was 25 years old and fresh out of the Army. 

"It is not overspeaking to say that the Broken Spoke was James White and James White was the Broken Spoke, I mean, it meant everything to him," said White’s longtime friend and distant relative, musician Monte Warden. 

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The dance hall was even featured on the cover of country music legend George Strait's album "Honky Tonk Time Machine."

For more than 55 years, stars graced the Spokes’ stage. "You know we’ve had people like Bob Wills. We’ve had Willie Nelson, we’ve had George Strait, Dolly Parton, the list goes on and on and on!"  White told FOX 7 Austin in an old interview.

Despite the constant hits, Warden says it was White's magnetic personality that truly stole the show. "It didn’t matter who was on stage at the Spoke, who was the special guest at the Spoke. James White was the star, he just had that charisma and the presence," said Warden. 

The Broken Spoke has been sharing photos of White on social media with some of the hall's high-profile guests and performers, including Strait, Nelson, Fergie and Josh Duhamel, Harry Connick Jr and his father, and Parton, using the hashtag #30daysofjameswhite.

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White gained a reputation for popping up on stage to sing with musicians. He was also known to say the pledge of allegiance before each performance, without fail. But most importantly, Warden says he was known for his integrity. "He was a hero. He did things his way and he kept his ethics about him and he kept his reputation and he was just a wonderful role model." 

According to the Broken Spoke, White is survived by his wife of 55 years, Annetta, who has been taking care of him.Many of those who knew White paid tribute to him on social media, including Ray Benson of "Asleep at the Wheel," who shared a photo of the two of them outside the Spoke.

White’s signature uniform was cowboy boots, a cowboy hat, and a sequined Western shirt. Warden says he was the "embodiment of Honky Tonk," adding "not that it was some role he played, he lived it. He loved being James White of the Broken Spoke and he was just the cat for the gig. He was the perfect person to be James White and nobody else could have done it any better." 

Warden asks anyone wanting to honor White’s life to patronize the Spoke. "The Broken Spoke is not gonna just keep going because we want it to," he said.

This Friday, Warden's band, Monte Warden and the Wagoneers will be playing some of White’s favorite songs at the honky-tonk.