Singer-composer with Texana Dames grew up playing with family's band

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Singer-composer with Texana Dames grew up playing with family's band

Traci Lamar Hancock, a singer, accordionist and composer best known for her work with the eclectic, come-up-and-dance family band known as the Texana Dames, died Friday of ovarian cancer, according to a website set up to raise money for the Hancock family. She was 51 years old.

Hancock fronted the Texana Dames with her older sister, Conni Hancock, and her mother, Charlene Hancock, for almost 25 years. Although the Dames' musical interests stretched from cumbia to country, Traci Hancock was the romantic heartbeat of the band. She sang in a husky alto and favored Latin rhythms and slow ballads. She often sang and composed in Spanish.

"Traci, first of all, was a beautiful singer," said Austin musician Lloyd Maines, who produced two Texana Dames albums and had known Traci Hancock for almost 50 years. "She had this great, buttery alto — and she could sing a country-and-western song and then turn right around and do a beautiful Spanish song. I always remember her as mesmerizing."

Raised in Lubbock and New Mexico, Colorado and California, Hancock grew up in one of the most eclectic, free-thinking musical families in America. Her father, fiddler Tommy X Hancock, owned Lubbock's legendary Cotton Club for a time (and helped integrate it) in the 1960s. As a 12-year-old in rural New Mexico, Traci Hancock was a member of the Supernatural Family Band — a kind of Zen-country-dance group, the "Partridge Family" turned inside out — fronted by her father and mother, featuring her two sisters and two brothers.

In New Mexico, Hancock's family lived for two years in a cabin with no electricity, practiced meditation and took the stage as the Supernatural Family Band on weekends. "She basically grew up different than any kid you would ever know," Maines said. Hancock developed her love of Spanish music and the Spanish language in New Mexico.

"I am attracted to romantic music — anything romantic moves me," Hancock once said. "I love a sad song, and Spanish music is inherently passionate and romantic in its sadness."

Like gypsies, the Hancocks drifted throughout the western United States before settling in Austin in 1980. The Supernatural Family Band enjoyed something of a cult status in the 1980s, especially for its Thursday night sets at the Shorthorn Lounge, in which old-timers and students from the Texas State School danced the hokeypokey together.

The Hancock women founded the Texana Dames in 1988.

Traci Hancock and the Dames were stylish, sultry and playful. They sang three-part harmony, played ranchera tunes and jumped from polka to cumbia to country. They dabbled in blues and jazz in a band that mixed Hancock's accordion with steel guitar, keyboard, saxophone and electric guitar. Hancock's son, Nastasi, played drums. They enjoyed popular sun-splashed Sunday afternoon residencies at La Zona Rosa and Guero's for more than 15 years, with Tommy X Hancock often dancing alone, barefoot, in the company of other patrons.

For more than 20 years, the Dames have been the Christmas Eve headliners at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar.

Several years ago, Traci Hancock released a Spanish solo album, "Apasionada." She continued to perform after her 2010 diagnosis. Last December, the Texana Dames performed at the Christmas party for the Seton Shivers Cancer Center — where Traci herself had received treatment.

Go to traciforgrace.com for updates or to donate to the Hancock family.

Contact Brad Buchholz at bbuchholz@statesman.com.

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