Las Vegas Sun

April 15, 2024

Deep in Heart of Texas’ composer dies at 91

Don Swander, who more than a half century ago said he was "ashamed" that he had written the musical classic "Deep in the Heart of Texas," died Sunday in Las Vegas where he had lived for the past 36 years. He was 91.

Swander, who was born March 25, 1905, in Marshal Town, Iowa, and his wife, June, wrote the song in 1941.

The songwriter composed more than 3,000 other tunes during his life, but only "Deep in the Heart of Texas" became a big hit.

Over the years, the song has been recorded by every major artist from Bing Crosby to Tex Ritter. It is estimated the song has been played on the radio more than a million times throughout the world.

"I wrote a lot of songs that were better," Swander said in a 1982 interview. "I am ashamed of 'Texas.' It's a two-chord song."

Crosby made the song a hit in 1942, and the song was one of the popular American ballads during World War II.

"It was World War II which made it a hit," Swander said. "Those Texans go all over and raise hell. They wanted to hear the song."

Swander and his wife moved to Las Vegas in 1960.

In the early 1970s, Swander took a weekend piano-playing job at the Bonnie Springs Ranch because he didn't want to retire.

"It's amazing I'm still here," Swander said in 1971. "All my drinking friends are dead. I guess that's why I drink water."

Swander, who lived on West Oakey Boulevard for many years, was raised in Washington state.

He played piano professionally at age 12.

When he was 16, he moved to Los Angeles, where he studied at UCLA and at a musical conservatory.

He once said the two most memorable things he ever did were to shoot craps with Rex Bell and Nick the Greek.

"They were the two Mr. Las Vegases of the time," Swander said.

Besides his wife, he leaves a son, Steven Swander of Fort Worth, Texas.

Funeral services, handled by Palm Mortuary, are private.

archive