While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


James Head

Listen to this artist

WEBSTER, KATHRYN JEWEL THORNE [KATIE] (1936–1999). Katie Webster, known as the "Swamp Boogie Queen," pianist, organist, "electric blues" vocalist, and harmonica player, was born Kathryn Jewel Thorne in Houston on January 11, 1936. She was the daughter of Cyrus and Myrtle Thorne. Her father was a ragtime pianist before becoming a Pentecostal preacher, and her mother played classical piano. The Thornes attempted to shield their young daughter from the evils of rhythm-and-blues music by locking up their piano when Katie was not taking her classical piano lessons. The girl, however, sneaked an old radio into her bedroom to listen to her favorite blues artists, Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Sam Cooke, on WLAC Radio, Nashville.

Katie Webster
Katie Webster. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In the early 1950s she moved to Beaumont to live with more open-minded relatives. Her new-found freedom allowed her to pursue a boogie-woogie musical career in Lake Charles, Louisiana, while she finished high school. Within a couple of years, she had married Earl Webster. The union lasted only five years; after it, she never remarried.

Katie Webster had a long and very productive musical career, beginning with considerable popularity as a session pianist around Lake Charles. She blended a traditional boogie-woogie beat with barrelhouse rhythms to create her own style of "swamp blues." She played the piano on more than 500 recordings, primarily for Excello and Eddie Shuler's Goldband Records. She worked with such influential musicians as Guitar Jr., Lightnin' Slim, Lazy Lester, Lonesome Sundown, Juke Boy Bonner, Hop Wilson, and Ashton Savoy.

Katie Webster
Katie Webster on a European tour in 1990. Courtesy of Frans Schellekens/Getty Images. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In 1964, while Otis Redding was playing at the Bamboo Club in Lake Charles, he asked the Swamp Boogie Queen to sit in with his band. Redding was so impressed by her talent that he asked her to join his tour. Katie Webster subsequently toured with Redding's band until he was killed in a plane crash in Lake Michigan in 1967. Webster, who was eight months pregnant, had overslept and missed the flight. She was so devastated by Redding's death that she gave up touring. In 1974 she moved to Oakland, California, to care for her ailing parents. Although she played at a few local venues, she was not very musically active during the 1970s.

The Swamp Boogie Queen
Katie Webster's Album The Swamp Boogie Queen, 1988. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In the late 1970s, her old friend Eddie Shuler re-released two of her albums, thus helping to launch her comeback. Katie made the first of sixteen European tours in 1982, wowing the audiences with her boogie-woogie piano. She played at numerous prestigious jazz and blues festivals during the 1980s and 1990s. She did not have any significant solo recording success, however, until the late 1980s, when she signed with Alligator Records. With guest appearances by Robert Cray, Kim Wilson, and Bonnie Raitt, she cut three well-received albums: The Swamp Boogie Queen (1988), Two Fisted Mama (1990), and No Foolin (1991). In the acclaimed No Foolin she displayed her powerful blues vocals and her skillful two-handed piano solos.

Webster's Grave
Katie Webster's Headstone. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In 1993 Webster suffered a stroke, which hindered the use of her left hand and damaged her eyesight. Although she regained some use of her hand and played at a few festivals and other gigs, her musical career was essentially over. She moved back to Texas in the mid-1990s to live with two of her daughters. She died of a heart attack at her daughter's home in League City, Texas, on September 5, 1999. She left behind two sisters, three brothers, two daughters, eight grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren.


Boston Globe, August 13, 1989. Michael Erlewine, et al., eds., AMG All Music Guide to the Blues: The Experts' Guide to the Best Blues Recordings (San Francisco: Miller Freeman, 1999). Sheldon Harris, Blues Who's Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1979). Houston Chronicle, August 8, 1995; September 8, 1999. Colin Larkin, ed., Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 3d ed. (New York: Muze, 1998). London Daily Telegraph, August 10, 1999. Los Angeles Times, March 7, 1986; August 9, 1999. Robert Santelli, Big Book of the Blues (New York: Penguin Books, 1993).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


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

Handbook of Texas Online, James Head, "WEBSTER, KATHRYN JEWEL THORNE [KATIE]," accessed August 09, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwe77.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on July 31, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...