Inspired by a struggling street performer he met in a New Orleans jail cell, Jerry Jeff Walker wrote the cautionary tale that would become a hit song with "Mr. Bojangles."
Houston guitar teacher and owner of Bojangles School of Music
Shawn Parks used the catchy name to baptize his school back in 2007. “If you listen to Bojangles it's totally a warning,” laughs Parks.
When Parks started Bojangles, he was the only instructor filling his schedule with in-home lessons all over Houston. He went on to include additional teachers and in 2014 found a physical location to operate out of in one of the most respected and reputable guitar shops in the nation, Rockin’ Robin Guitars
This month, Bojangles expanded yet again opening its second location in The Heights sharing a studio space with Julia & The Standards
. The Bojangles Music School Heights allows for more Houstonians to have access to quality lessons while also providing the space for Bojangles to have group lessons for the first time ever. They plan on hosting the first annual Rock and Roll Revue student performance later this fall.
One of the new locations rooms where group lessons will be held.
Photo by Van Williams
“In a lot of ways it's a homecoming for me,” says Parks of the school's second location. “I lived in the Heights for 15 years and I built my business from my little house in the Heights. I know that a lot of artists got priced out of the Heights, but it is still a very artistically minded area.”
For Parks and his team, which includes his wife Elisabeth Parks, being artistically minded is at the root of what they do as they strive to provide quality lessons for students of all ages while giving local musicians a steady way to make income during the day and always finding a way to keep it local, right down to having their sign made by local artists.
“At the heart of what we do is teaching kids and adults and we want them to have the best instruction possible. How do you do that? You get good teachers and you pay them.” Bojangles Music School offers lessons in electric and acoustic guitar, piano, drums, bass, mandolin, ukulele, lap steel and more.
Compensating teachers and supporting Houston’s musical community while teaching the future generation of performers has always been the mission for Bojangles Music School. By being a small, local business that does not form part of a larger, out of state franchise, Parks can accomplish that.
“There's a musical economy here and we are very conscious of that here at Bojangles. We are trying to build on that and highlight it with certain things that we do,” he says referring to the Night For Guy show they organize yearly. “We are trying to tell our story, help to build up artists and keep an artists community here.”
Shawn’s staff has consistently been made up of local, gigging musicians that he has gotten to know through his support of live music. For many musicians, finding a consistent way to make money during the day helps support their artistic vision and personal financial needs in a city where gigging has been historically challenging due to the size and nature of Houston.
“Shawn has recruited these guys not because they showed up without any job but because they're knowledgeable musicians and they are good with people. That’s the number one criteria,” says Bart Wittrock, owner of Rockin’ Robin Guitars and Music.
“Being asked to take this space was probably the greatest professional honor I’ve ever gotten,” says Parks, who was named as a top Houston entrepreneur by the Houston Business Journal
who named him one of the 40 under 40 to watch in 2020, ironically one of the hardest years for Parks and most business owners.
Bojangles and Rockin’ Robin have a harmonious partnership as both businesses are not only obviously centered around music, but also serve as hubs for local musicians making lifelong connections to one another. Walk into either business anyday and you can find some of Houston’s best musicians working.
“On some level everybody at Bojangle’s is mostly a gigging musician. They know what you need to know and what you don't need to know,” says former teacher and busy Houston musician Paul Beebe
. He describes how students would come see him perform in one of his many bands including Beetle and Disco Expressions only to be in shock and awe of what their teacher could really do on stage.
“Knowing how to play a song is great, but learning how to learn songs is a different thing,” says Beebe in line with the Bojangles approach to teaching which not only focuses on meeting the students where they are technically but helping them reach their next level by giving them videos following each session to help them keep track of what they did and what needs to be practiced before their next lesson.
“Knowing how to play a song is great, but learning how to learn songs is a different thing.”
“To be honest with you I'm more concerned with passion and respect for music as a teacher than I am with how good you are playing,” says Parks, emphasizing the undesired contrary effect that can happen when kids are not taught in a meaningful way, ultimately pushing them away from music and making their lessons just one more chore they have to do that day.
“You gotta find that sweet spot and it’s different for every kid and adult. Yes I want to teach music and I want them to play it but I want them to appreciate music and love music. I want this to be a first step on a life long journey in music,” says Parks.
Bojangles Music School Heights is now open at 1529 Heights Boulevard. For more information visit bojanglesmusicschool.com