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Music of Oklahoma

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Music of Oklahoma

While the music of Oklahoma is relatively young, Oklahoma has been a state for just over 100 years, and it has a rich history and many fine and influential musicians.

Songs of Oklahoma

For complete list see List of songs of Oklahoma.

Official state songs

Other songs

For a more complete list, see the WorldHeritage "List of songs about Oklahoma".


American Indian

Oklahoma is the traditional homeland of the Caddo, Wichita, and Tonkawa people. The US federal government's Indian Removal policy of the 19th century moved many other tribes into the area, and now the state is headquarters to 40 federally recognized tribes. Oklahoma is diverse crossroads of American Indian musicians. This rich collection of traditional music is performed in powwows all over the state. Additionally, the music is enriched by Indian musician's exposure to other tribe's songs through the many intertribal meetings in the state. The American Indian Exposition in Anadarko is a longstanding gathering of Southern Plains Tribes featuring many musicians. Among Eastern tribes, stomp dances feature male singers with accompaniment by women's turtle shell leg rattles.

49 songs, a 20th-century genre based on traditional war dance songs, originated in Oklahoma among the Kiowa tribe in southwestern Oklahoma and quickly spread to other tribes through the American Indian Exposition at Anadarko. The name comes from a burlesque show that toured the area in the 1920s called the "Girls of '49" for its California gold rush theme. A 49 (or forty-nine) is a gathering following a pow-wow and the songs are usually love songs, mostly in English, with repeated refrains of vocables.[1]


The traditional Appalachian folk ballads brought by new settlers from the South infused Oklahoma with a music about the lives of everyday people. Much of the music was overtly religious as the rural communities revolved around their churches. Another distinctive type of country music grew out of the dance halls and roadhouses, especially in the oil boom areas of eastern Oklahoma. This honky-tonk style music from Oklahoma and the surrounding states became a staple of American country music for years.


Oklahoma has had a long tradition of Gospel music. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Steal Away To Jesus, standard Gospel tunes, were written by Wallis Willis, a former slave in the old Choctaw Nation of southeastern Oklahoma. Alexander Reid, a minister at a Choctaw boarding school after the Civil War, transcribed the words and melodies and sent the music to the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. The Jubilee Singers then popularized the songs during a tour of the United States and Europe.[2] Albert E. Brumley, a Spiro, Oklahoma native, wrote a number of Gospel classics that have become a standard in Gospel singer's repertoires. His best-known compositions include I'll Fly Away, Jesus Hold My Hand, and Turn Your Radio On. These songs are commonplace in many church hymnals today.

Jazz and swing

The territory bands of the 1920s and 30s brought a new style of music to Oklahoma. Many of the well-known swing musicians tuned their skills and styles touring with these regional bands. These bands brought the big-band orchestras to many communities never visited by the more popular groups from New York. Perhaps the most famous of the Oklahoma based territory bands were the Oklahoma City Blue Devils. The Blue Devils were the foundation for Count Basie's orchestra. The Al Good Orchestra, also from Oklahoma City, began playing in the Oklahoma area in the 1940s and continue to play after his Al Good's death in 2003. In addition, a number of prominent jazz musicians came from Oklahoma; these include Charlie Christian, Oscar Pettiford, Don Byas, Cecil McBee, Barney Kessel, Sam Rivers, Don Cherry, Chet Baker and Jay McShann. Although most of these self-identified as African American, many (including Pettiford) were also partly of Native American ancestry.

Rock and roll

One of the hot spots for rock and roll in Oklahoma during the 60's was Ronnie Kaye's "The Scene" in Oklahoma City. It featured local garage rock and psychedelic bands. Musicians such as songwriter J. J. Cale, Elvin Bishop, and Leon Russell have ties to Tulsa, Oklahoma (see The Tulsa Sound), and Tulsa's Cain's Ballroom has become a notable small-venue club for touring bands. After the success of cult icons The Flaming Lips, under-the-radar act Starlight Mints, and 90's alternative groups Chainsaw Kittens and The Nixons, Norman has become a hotspot for local and nationwide indie music. Pop-rock band Hanson, who had a string of hits in the mid-90s, hails from Tulsa; as do Admiral Twin, Caroline's Spine, and Molly's Yes. Alternative-rock band The All-American Rejects was formed in Stillwater; and post-grunge band Hinder, notable for their hit "Lips of an Angel" hails from Oklahoma City as well as other local favorites such as: Stone Cold Sober, Aranda and Violence to Vegas. The 1990s had a Hardcore Punk Rock scene in Edmond, Oklahoma which included bands such as The Lunch Bunch, The Real Ones, Bi-Products, Aspects, Suburban Bitches, Dry Heave, The Takers, The Boxcar Children, and many more who played shows at the Edmond Legion Hall, the Edmond Armory, The Outback, Hafer Park and The Sheep Farm.

Western or cowboy

Prior to Oklahoma's opening for settlement, cowboys pushing cattle from Texas to the railheads developed a style and subject of music that became known as Cowboy or Western. As they settled on the ranches they continued their traditional style of singing. The romanticism of the cowboy in the popular culture brought a wider audience to the music. Although the writers of these traditional Western songs are mostly unknown, Dr. Brewster Highley, author of perhaps the most famous of the cowboy ballads, Home on the Range, followed the frontier into Oklahoma where he died in 1911.

Otto Gray and his Oklahoma Cowboys were the first nationally popular cowboy band. Formed in 1924 by William McGinty, Oklahoma pioneer and former Rough Rider, the band performed on radio and national vaudeville circuits from 1924 through 1936. Otto Gray, the first "Singing Cowboy", and all of the band members were recruited from Oklahoma ranches.[3]

Western Swing

Oklahoma was a center for the development and spread of Western swing. Performers playing the traditional western music, influenced heavily by the territory bands, added fiddles and steel guitars to the their orchestras to produce a new and very popular type of music. Bob Wills, and His Texas Playboys, based in Tulsa, influenced this music for more than a generation. One of the more distinctive early Western swing bands from Oklahoma was Big Chief Henry's Indian String Band, a family group of Choctaw Indians, who performed out of Wichita, Kansas, during the 1920s, and who were recorded by H. C. Speir of Victor Records in 1929.


Historic Venues include Cain's Ballroom, The Arbuckle Ballroom, the Tumbleweed, and JC Cowboys

Live performances

Paul had a little string band and sometimes I would chord with them over at George's Pig Stand near Maud. These were 'outside performances' and most of the people sat in their cars to listen to the music. A lot of horn-honking showed approval for a particular rendition of a song. Sometimes couples would dance on the little concrete slab at the side of the building.

Mildred Dennis, Maud, Oklahoma, 1943[4]

Music in Oklahoma has been played, sung, and heard in the Indian villages of the earliest Americans; around the campfires of the cowboys and traders; in the churches, theaters, and dancehalls of the territorial days; and in concert halls and at music festivals, pow-wows National Guard armories, and school gymnasiums of the present day.

Recently, Americana Unplugged established a house concert-type venue in downtown Davis, Oklahoma featuring folk and Americana musicians.


In 1922, WKY began broadcasting in Oklahoma City. Other stations followed and soon, anyone with a radio could hear music previously unavailable to them. Still, many radios broadcast local music. KVOO in Tulsa aired Western swing from Bob Wills for more than twenty years.

In 1958, KOMA, a 50,000 watt radio station in Oklahoma City, began a format of playing Top 40 recordings and Rock & Roll. Its signal strength allowed many young people across the Great Plains and Western states to listen to music not available from their local stations and influenced many of their local music markets.

Oklahoma currently supports many radio stations. Most play music that ranges from classical to hip-hop. Much of their content, however, is taped and the same programs broadcast over several stations throughout the U.S. Very little local music is aired. (See List of radio stations in Oklahoma)

List of live venues

Musicians and composers native to Oklahoma

Notable Oklahoma bands

Musicians and bands with Oklahoma ties


  1. ^ Velie, American Indian Literature, page 89 Kiowa "49" Songs.
  2. ^ Savage, Singing Cowboys, page 5.
  3. ^ Savage, Singing Cowboys, page 34.
  4. ^ Dennis, It's Gonna Be OK, page 86.
  5. ^ COOLEY, DONNELL CLYDE "SPADE" (1910–1969)


  • Dennis, Mildred. It's Gonna Be OK: A Lease-Child's Legacy. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2004. ISBN 1-4208-0305-0
  • Moore, Ethel, and Chauncey O. (compilers). Ballads and folk songs of the Southwest: more than 600 titles, melodies, and texts collected in Oklahoma. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964.
  • Savage, William W., Jr. Singing Cowboys and All That Jazz: A Short History of Popular Music in Oklahoma. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988. ISBN 0-8061-2085-1
  • Velie, Alan R. American Indian Literature: An Anthology. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8061-2345-1

External links

  • Oklahoma City Philharmonic
  • Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame
  • Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame
  • Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and Museum
  • Tulsa Symphony
  • Rodeo Opry
  • Oklahoma City Traditional Music Association
  • Greater Oklahoma Bluegrass Music Society
  • Oklahoma Bluegrass Club
  • Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival
  • The Woody Guthrie Center, Tulsa
  • Elemar Music, Publisher of "Oklahoma My Native Land"
  • “Oklahoma Blues Roots Run Deep” video
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