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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

Fans of 'Gatemouth' Brown working to replace gravestone

 

Last updated 3/19/2024 at 6:52pm

The original sculpted tombstone of Grammy-winning singer and musician Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown in Orange's historic Hollywood Cemetery has been damaged by storms. Temporary repairs have not lasted, and now a musician and friend is leading an online effort for fans to get a new marker.

Fourteen years ago, a grave marker carved with a Fender guitar was placed at the grave site of Grammy-winning singer and musician Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, who is buried in Orange's Hollywood Cemetery.

But flood waters continually damaged the marker, which included his quote engraved "I won't limit myself to one type of music. There's a lot of universe out there, and what is the universe? Music."

Now, a fan and family friend has started an online fundraiser for money for a new marker.

Stephen "Doc" Watson earlier this month posted on Facebook a link to givesendgo.com hoping to raise money for a new marker. He has permission from Brown's daughter, Renee, who lives in New Orleans. The donation site is GiveSendGo.com.

The hometown son was featured at the first Art in the Park festival, which was held in the fall of 2003. Orange Mayor Brown Claybar gave him a proclamation and the key to the city.

In 2021, Lamar State College-Orange built and dedicated the "Gatemouth" Brown Plaza at the campus in downtown.

In addition, a Texas Historical Marker was dedicated to Brown in Hollywood Cemetery in 2012.

Brown was born in 1924 on the Louisiana side of the river in Vinton, but was raised in Orange, learning to play several musical instruments, including guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. His father was a musician and worked for a railroad. Brother Bobby Brown, who still lives in Orange, once recalled the father and son used to play for tips on Saturdays outside the Holland Hotel in Orange in the 1930s when downtown was busy.

Clarence Brown served in the army in World War II. His biography tells that he was discovered in 1947 at the Bronze Peacock Club in Houston when T-Bone Walker became ill. Brown got his guitar and wowed the crowd with his playing the original "Gatemouth Boogie."

He was pegged as playing the blues, however his musical style combined Cajun, jazz, country, R&B, and blues. He could move from smooth Duke Ellington to the blues and on to playing Orange Blossom Special on fiddle. He became great friends with country legend Roy Clark and the two cut an album together. Brown also regularly appeared with Clark on "Hee Haw."

He won the 1983 Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album for "Alright Again!"

Brown traveled the world playing his unique music and joining in with some of the biggest legends in rock, jazz, and country music. He developed a fashion of wearing black cowboy style clothes with black cowboy boots and black cowboy hat. He was called "The Guitar Slinger." He drove a big, black Cadillac and parked it near the stage at the first Art in the Park.

In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine reported he had lung cancer and was not going to take any treatments for it. He continued playing, carrying an oxygen tank to performances.

He had settled along the water in Slidell, Louisiana, outside of New Orleans. As Hurricane Rita approached, relatives begged him to evacuate. He came to Orange to stay with relatives, and soon went to a Port Arthur Hospital.

News reports said he left the hospital without medical clearance. He died in Orange at his grandniece's house on September 10, 2005. The death made national news and his funeral here the next week drew news media from New Orleans, Houston, Austin, and New York, in addition to local ones. Floral arrangements came from musicians. Guitarist and singer Jimmy Vaughn attended.

Brown was buried in Hollywood Cemetery on September 17, 2005. On September 24th, Hurricane Rita devastated Orange County and blew down some of the old trees in the cemetery.

It wasn't the first of the storms that have affected Gatemouth Brown.

Hollywood Cemetery dates back to at least the 1860s and was in a low-lying area along Cooper's Gully, which runs into the nearby Sabine River. Most of the graves in the cemetery are in the coastal style of concrete vaults that are partly above ground.

Hurricane Ike in September 2008 sent a coastal surge up the Sabine River and flooded the southern part of the county. The strong waters forced off the concrete lids of the vaults. Come 50 caskets floated out, with some traveling down Simmons Drive.

Brown's casket was among them. Authorities said it was pushed against a fence and never left the cemetery. He was quickly identified and reinterred.

His daughter Renee placed artist-designed tombstone at the grave in the spring of 2010.

The cemetery flooded again with the record-breaking Sabine River Flood of March 2016, and then again, with Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. The pressure of the waters broke the marker. Though volunteers made repairs, the sculptured marker has continued to break, especially after two more hurricanes in 2020.

 

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