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BURDEN, OMEGA (1913–1973). Guitarist Omega Burden was born near Gordonville in Grayson County, Texas, on January 28, 1913, the son of Finis and Meda (Cook) Burden. Burden is recognized by many as the originator of "Texas Style" guitar. He worked for various railroads and spent much of his free time competing in fiddle contests and jamming with friends—Major Lee Franklin; Benny Thomasson; Joe Hughes; William Orville Burns; and Ervin, Vernon, and Norman Solomon. Burden is reported to have participated in an all-night fiddle session on October 31, 1947, followed by an all-day session the next day. His late-night jam sessions at friends' houses extended through the 1960s. He was reputed to be one of the finest rhythm guitarists in the Southwest. Many believed that his guitar, “Maybelle,” a 1942 Gibson Southern Jumbo Banner that he had purchased for $90 from an employee of the railroad, provided the heartbeat that kept the Texas State Old Time Fiddlers Association vibrant from the early 1960s to the early 1970s.
Steve Williams, a protégé of Omega Burden, holds Burden's guitar "Maybelle," a 1942 Gibson Southern Jumbo Banner. Courtesy Mrs. Steve Williams.
Affectionately referred to as "Biggun'" by his friends, Burden played at fiddle contests throughout Texas, and such fiddlers as Jimmy Henley and Garland Gainer came from New Mexico and Oklahoma to jam with him. He played at events such as the Yamboree in Gilmer, the Fiddlers' World Championship in Crockett, the Saint Paddies Day Jam in Shamrock, and at such venues as Hale Center and the Seminary in Fort Worth. Burden influenced Larry Franklin, Carl Hopkins, and Randy Elmore, and he taught many of his techniques to guitar student Steve Williams of Houston and Bobby Christman of Pottsboro.
In the late 1930s Burden farmed cotton and corn in Trenton, Texas. Then, in 1941, he moved to Dallas, where he worked for the Southern Pacific for two years. He worked for the next thirty-one years as a switchman and yardmaster for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (Katy), until his retirement in the early 1970s. He married twice. His first marriage to Jane Short ended in divorce in the 1940s, and the second to Amy Crawford ended in the early 1970s. He had two children by his first marriage and one child by his second. In late 1973 his long-time friend Major Franklin found him unconscious in his apartment in Gordonville; he died without recovering consciousness on November 25, 1973, and is buried in nearby Cedar Mills Cemetery. After Burden's death, his guitar “Maybelle” was eventually acquired by Bobby Christman, who regularly played the legendary instrument at fiddlers' competitions. In November 1978 Major Franklin received the Omega Burden Award at the Fiddlers' Super Bowl Invitational at Durant, Oklahoma. Burden was inducted into the Texas Fiddlers Hall of Fame during the 1999 Texas State Championship Fiddlers' Frolics in Hallettsville, Texas.
The Texas Fiddler: Newsletter of the Texas Old Time Fiddlers Association, October 1995. Texas State Championship Fiddlers’ Frolics and Songwriter Serenade, Hall of Fame: Larry Franklin (http://www.fiddlersfrolics.com/larry-franklin.html), accessed September 7, 2011. Texas State Championship Fiddlers’ Frolics and Songwriter Serenade, Hall of Fame: Major Lee Franklin (http://www.fiddlersfrolics.com/major-franklin.html), accessed September 7, 2011. Texas State Championship Fiddlers’ Frolics and Songwriter Serenade, Hall of Fame: Omega Burden (http://www.fiddlersfrolics.com/omega-burden.html), accessed September 7, 2011. Texas State Championship Fiddlers’ Frolics and Songwriter Serenade, Hall of Fame: William Orville Burns (http://www.fiddlersfrolics.com/william-burns.html), accessed September 7, 2011.
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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, Cheryl L. Simon and Bobby Christman, "BURDEN, OMEGA," accessed November 20, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbuah.
Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on March 13, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.