Saga Of The Singing Courthouse

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“You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know what it’s like. To love somebody, the way I love you.”—   The Bee Gees


I was taking a photograph of a city worker installing new banners along the light poles downtown the other day and humming along to this venerable Bee Gees song as the music wafted through the square. It was coming from the Titus County courthouse, of course, from the speakers installed along the roof. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue after the storm passed through, and it finally felt like autumn. I really wanted to just sit down on a bench, listen to the music and enjoy the cool air, but work beckoned. I reluctantly walked back to the office, the music still audible down at our new digs a couple blocks off the square.

There is a common question out-of-towners visiting me here in Mount Pleasant ask, especially if we run up to Laura’s Cheesecake for lunch. (I recommend the chicken salad on a croissant, but everything I have ever tried has been delicious.):

Where is that music coming from?

Most folks, including me, enjoy it. The first time my Beautiful Mystery Companion and I walked around downtown, prior to me taking this gig, we wondered who was playing the music before figuring out it was coming from the courthouse.

“Wonder how that got started,” I thought.

Since then, friends and business acquaintances invariably remark upon the music, which apparently plays 24/7. At least, I have stumbled out of the newspaper office at 1 a.m. after covering football and laying out sports pages and heard a pop song playing in the distance. It sounds a bit ghostly at that time of night.

It was time to delve deeper into this. County Judge Brian Lee said he didn’t know the history, since he is just finishing up his first term. So I tried Jacob Hatfield at the city. He kindly went to the trouble of checking with Nita May, the previous Main Street manager, who confirmed the courthouse music was installed around 1993, after the building was remodeled. At first the music came from a satellite dish mounted on the roof.

“It created an atmosphere of friendliness and charm,” May said.

In the early days, someone had to physically turn the music on and off. But since 2008, Hatfield has been in charge and changed the service over to Sirius XM satellite radio. The city pays the contract annually and that includes the licensing to broadcast to the public, Hatfield said.

He added that he changes the stations every few months, “or whenever we get complaints that it is getting boring.” And, of course, the speakers broadcast Christmas music during the holiday season.

I could not confirm this, but I have been told that the courthouse broadcast music as far back as the 1970s. County commissioner Mike Fields, who has been in office 28 years, told me the music was playing when he took office. But apparently there was a hiatus at some point until 1993.

Titus County appears to be unique in continuously broadcasting music from its courthouse. I whiled away an hour Googling “courthouses that play music,” “singing courthouses,” and other variations. The courthouse in Haskell, Texas has the capability to do so but apparently only broadcasts on special occasions. The Northampton County courthouse in Pennsylvania did so until April 2012, when it pulled the plug because it didn’t want to pay a $2,343 licensing fee to the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers – or ASCAP. The county administrator joked that the last day music played from his courthouse was the “day the music died,” a line from Don McLean’s classic song “American Pie.”

Those were the only two courthouses I could find, though there are plenty that hold musical events on their lawns.

I’m thinking this could be a tourism attraction: Titus County: Home of the Singing Courthouse. One thing is certain: It certainly gets the attention of visitors and newcomers.

The other question I’m often asked is “Why do the courthouse clocks tell different times – none of which are correct.” Judge Lee said the clocks have been broken for years, and the cost to fix them is in “five figures.” That cost is hard to justify spending during these tight times, he said. Makes sense to me.

It does lead me to wonder if the Singing Courthouse has ever played that famous Chicago song: “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”




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