Born on September 23, 1932 in Long Beach, California, Travis Jerome Edmonson's first sojourn as a Californian was short-lived, and from infancy to leaving college, he lived in southern Arizona, not merely a state of residence for him, but a virtual state of mind which affected much in his life, his career and his thinking.
He grew up in the border town of Nogales, Arizona, where his home environment was the springboard which developed an intellectual curiosity that flickers clear across the spectrum of his work.
The erudite forum that was the dining table of Rose and Joseph P. Kennedy would certainly have met a rival in the Edmonson home, which everyone remembered as a white light of scholarly inquiry.
Discussion of public, philosophical and cultural issues was inevitably part of the fare. His father was the first social wwelfare officer in southern Arizona and his mother a dedicated teacher renowned for her wisdom. There were three older brothers, all academically minded from their youth. Monroe became a distinguished professor of anthropology at Tulane University. Earlloyd followed his father into social work, and Collin was considered to be one of the finest educators of his time in classics, holding achair at the University of Washington and being Secretary of the American School in Athens.
But they were musical too, each playing an instrument. Collin was a particular role model here (possibly for a later two-man act?), performing on the guitar and singing Mexican music with a friend. Credited as the single greatest influence in his entertainer brother's life, Collin Edmonson's knowledge and love for Mexican music was the foundation for the latter's own promotion of Latin songs.
Indeed, those melodies which wafted across the border were as much a part of family life as the cerebral discussion. But just a part. For the balladeer to be, however, music was everything.
He'd made his public debut at the age of seven at the local St. Andrew's Episcopal church where the family sang in the choir. His other youthful gigs were quite something else though. A favorite pastime was to cross the border and join with the mariachis at a variety of “colorful” venues in Nogales, Sonora, including the cave restaurant “La Caverna.”
Starting out on simple instruments which the mariachis used, it was inevitable that he would gravitate to the guitar. His cousin Bud helped him with the basics, and with that alone, he was able to be in constant demand as a musician throughout secondary school.
It was also in his early teens that Travis Edmonson began developing some of his other creative inclinations - writing poetry, drawing and painting, artistic activities which he has pursued throughout his life.
After distinguishing himself as well on the basketball court at Nogales High School, he then transferred to Tucson High to complete secondary education. All the while his enthrallment with music was escalating, and he became proficient on a number of other instruments, the guitar becoming a constant companion.
It was during this period that he collected so many of the beautiful Mexican songs which became staples of his career repertoire - discovered traveling around Mexico, from recordings, and from those whom he performed with . These were not casual, but stirring experiences for the young musician, and the intensity of initial encounters with such melodies as “Malagueña Salerosa,” “Caminante Del Mayab” “Rayito De Luna,” “Sin Ti” and “La Vaquilla Colorada” audibly reverberated on and on in his moving performances of them as an adult.
The latter song was part of another thread woven throughout Travis Edmonson's life - the passion for ranching and horses, which began with joyful childhood visits to his uncles ranch in the Arizona outback. Part of the enrichment which nature provided in his life also included frequent forays into the desert. The compounded experiences of such camping expeditions over six decades have made Travis Edmonson a virtual human encyclopedia on the fauna and flora of this geography as well as on the art of surviving in the desert's often hostile conditions.
At 16 he was introduced - for the very first time - to traditional American folk music. Burl Ives, Josh White, and Katy Lee were the initial artists of the genre he became familiar with, and this just added more fuel to the flames already burning. He definitely wanted to hear more.
But Travis Edmonson pursued his interest in anthropology as well, dwelling with both the Apache and the Yaqui Indians, and becoming fluent in their customs and languages. Music represented his ambassadorial credentials to these Native American communities, and through his commitment, songs and compelling personality, he had the unique distinction of being accepted as a member of the latter tribe in addition to working on a dictionary of their language.
Such scholarly projects had been the domain of his academic brothers . But Colin, in turn, showed that he was capable of unearthing treasures from his singing sibling's sphere.
He brought home an Army buddy who filled the house with a brand of folk music, miles away from the Mexican-influenced songs the Edmonsons had been playing, and in the parlance of a half century later, they were simply blown away by it.
The young army officer was a New Yorker cum Virginian named Oliver Dashiel, whom one should not be surprised to learn, will surface again later in this story.
Meanwhile, Travis Edmonson was making his decision on where to further his education. He had visited Harvard University when brother Monroe was studying there on a scholarship, and the totally different atmosphere of the New England campus had been beguiling. But the life in the Southwest proved too much of a draw, and the inevitable choice turned out to be Tucson and the University of Arizona.
A teenage Travis Edmonson
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Travis Edmonson made his breakthrough with The Gateway Singers, resident group at the hungry i
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