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Clayton T. Shorkey and Laurie E. Jasinski

Carl Besserer
Carl Besserer (center, behind the drum) and his band provided the musical entertainment for many civic events in Austin during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Original photo (ca. 1880s) from UTSA Libraries Special Collections, No. 68-699; Courtesy Texas Music Museum.

BESSERER, CARL WILLIAM (1851–1931). Carl William Besserer was one of the most prominent musicians and educators during the early days of Austin’s history. His parents, Karl Wilhelm and Helene (Bastian) Besserer, emigrated to Texas from Germany about 1850. Carl was born Karl Wilhelm Bernhard Besserer in New Braunfels on October 3, 1851. His father had died before he was born, and Carl’s mother married John Lauritz Buaas of Austin in March 1853. He was placed under the guardianship of his stepfather, and evidently the family moved to Travis County. Following his education in Germany, he made Austin his home. In 1872 Carl Besserer operated a music store—Buaas & Besserer—possibly with his stepfather or with another member of the Buaas family. He sold pianos and other instruments, tuned pianos, and gave music lessons, gaining the title of professor. In 1873 he married Mary Scholz, the daughter of beer garden owner August Scholz. Besserer assumed management of Scholz’s Garden in 1885.

Over a period of time, Carl Besserer taught enough young Austinites to play various instruments to allow the organization of a band and an orchestra. Students from the University of Texas provided an excellent talent pool for the orchestra. His orchestra performed for governors, presidential visits, military events, and military funerals. In addition to organizing and leading music groups that provided much of the entertainment for early Austin, he was also a cofounder of the Austin Saengerrunde, the German singing society, in 1879. Besserer’s Band, known as the National Guard Band and later the Governor’s Staff Band, provided entertainment at popular beer gardens and parks and for parties aboard the Ben Hur riverboat on Lake Austin in the 1890s. About 1911 he was director of the State Military Band.

For decades Besserer was known as the leader of musical entertainment for any civic event in Austin. He amassed a music library of some 35,000 volumes and continued to teach music classes throughout the city almost until his death. At that time he was planning for a Christmas concert to take place at the Confederate Woman’s Home. He died in Austin on December 12, 1931, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. He was survived by a daughter and two sons. Besserer left a rich legacy of music for his successors and was an inaugural inductee into the Austin Music Memorial in 2008.


Austin American–Statesman, December 13, 1931, June 17, 1972, October 28, 1977. “Austin Music Memorial,” Texas Music Office (http://governor.state.tx.us/music/tour/austin-music-memorial), accessed September 7, 2015. Eugene Carl Mornhinweg, trans., Baptism Register For The Protestant Congregation in New Braunfels (June 1984, Sophienburg Archives, New Braunfels, Texas). Days of Beer and Pretzels: A beer-garden history of Austin (http://richardzelade.com/daysof.htm), accessed September 8, 2015. Lota M. Spell, Music in Texas (Austin, 1936; rpt., New York: AMS, 1973).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Clayton T. Shorkey and Laurie E. Jasinski, "BESSERER, CARL WILLIAM ," accessed May 24, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbebp.

Uploaded on May 14, 2014. Modified on September 13, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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