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by Pat Rodgers

Johnny Cash, crooner and chronicler of the American experience, made famous the story of the shoeshine boy in his memorable song, “Get Rhythm”. The unique sound effects in the song mimic the sound of the shoeshine rags. The lyrics tell the story of a shoeshine boy who dispenses life advice while joyously going about his professional duties.

“Well, I asked him while he shined my shoes How'd he keep from getting the blues He grinned as he raised his little head He popped a shoeshine rag and then he said

Get rhythm when you get the blues Come on, get rhythm when you get the blues A jumpy rhythm makes you feel so fine It'll shake all your trouble from your worried mind Get rhythm when you get the blues”

Bruce Luster, McKinney’s own dispenser of shoeshine wisdom and humor for more than 75 years, must have been in on the secret. The stories and jokes he heard and shared with his customers over the years had the richness and flavor of a life full of joy. He was never without a good story he could “bend your ear with” as he buffed and shined your shoes to perfection.

Bruce grew up in Hopkins County in East Texas. As a teenager he worked in the cotton fields in Denton County before moving to McKinney on New Years Eve 1925. He went to work shining shoes at the Palace Barber Shop at the age of sixteen. His commitment to excellence made him a local legend.

To understand the significance of shining shoes at the Palace Barber Shop, the reader must travel back to 1892, 132 years ago, when the Palace first opened for business. McKinney was growing and needed more practitioners in the tonsorial arts. MESSRS. Lewis and Hinnant opened the Palace. Their investment was sound and 132 years later it is now the oldest continuously operating barbershop in Texas.

Bruce began his shoeshine career in 1925 and after more than fifty years shining shoes at the Palace, he opened his own shop on McDonald Street. He operated a successful business there for another twenty-five years before retiring at the age of ninety-eight in 2009.

He was a natural at drumming up business as he always asked anyone who came through the door if he wanted a shine. He would then shine and entertain the customer as he bantered back and forth with the barbers who were cutting hair.

He was a big practical joker as well, and worked with various barbers over the years. One of his favorites was Jimmie who worked first chair at the Palace. Jimmie was short and stout and parted his red hair in the middle. He looked much like James Cagney from the movies- feisty and full of humor.

Bruce, who passed at the age of 100, relates this story in McKinney Living in the 1990’s: “A man came into the barber shop and he began to brag about the new boots and the fantastic bargain he got for them. He quoted the man as saying,” I got these babies for just twelve-and-a half.” He reached down to pull off the boot for the barbershop crowd to admire and the heel came off in his hand! Jimmie laughed so hard he nearly rolled on the floor!”

Bruce shared another story with his customers that went like this: “Jimmie was cutting a man’s hair when the conversation turned to superstition. The man reported,” I am not the least bit superstitious. Why some folks will drive five miles out of their way to avoid a black cat! Not me, I just make an X on the windshield, spit out the window, and go right ahead. I don’t believe in that nonsense!” Bruce reports that “Jimmie, grinned so big, his eyes disappeared”!

Get Rhythm

When you get the Blues

C’mon get rhythm

When you get the blues

It only costs a dime just a nickel a shoe

It does a million dollars worth of good for you

Get Rhythm

When you get the blues

Bruce lived to be 100 years old, having shared his advice and joy for living with his McKinney friends for 75 years. On his birthday, February 23, in 1996 and 2011, the mayor declared it Bruce Luster Day, and more recently, the city graced a new street with his name. Both are great testaments and honors to one of McKinney’s most memorable characters and everyday philosophers.

Bruce Luster truly had rhythm.

Come visit us at the Collin County History Museum and experience our new exhibit, “Created in Collin County”.

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