Man Behind ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ Fame Loses Cancer Battle

It’s a song that’s woven deeply in the fabric of country music, and American music in general. Called “Cotton-Eyed Joe, Holly Everett writes in The Many Lives Of Cotton-Eyed Joe that the song pre-dates the Civil War.

Many artists have recorded the song since it originated, including one man who earned the nickname “Mr. Cotton-Eyed Joe.” Al Dean recorded a purely instrumental version of the song in 1967, and that version led to the creation of a new round dance polka for couples. The dance craze stuck, and countless couples have kicked up their heels to Dean’s rendition of the song ever since.

Sadly, at the age of 85, Dean passed away on October 3 while in hospice care in San Antonio, Texas. Heart of Texas Records President Tracy Pitcox spoke to Key MusicNews about Dean’s passing, saying, “Al had been battling cancer. He passed away very peacefully on Monday afternoon about 4:30.

Dean’s career got its start in 1952 through a band called The Texas Teenagers. The group performed at dances, school functions, and benefits in South Texas, which eventually led to Dean’s recording career.

Once he hit it big with “Cotton-Eyed Joe” in 1967, Dean was considered an icon in the music community. In 1987, the American Music Association of Texas gave him an award to acknowledge the fact that his rendition of “Cotton-Eyed Joe” was the most-programmed record on a jukebox.

While reflecting on Dean’s legacy, Pitcox spoke of how it was an honor to get to know the man who brought “Cotton-Eyed Joe” to life. “Al loved country music and truly loved his fans,” Pitcox said. “He was always talking about how excited he was to be able to perform and it thrilled him to hear from his fans from many years ago. He made a great contribution to the Texas country music scene.

Dean’s contribution to music history is most evident in his version of “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” which you can hear below. May he rest in peace.