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Published on December 11th, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz

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15 Things You May Not Have Known About Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Musical History & Global Influence

One of the 50 largest cities in the United States, Tulsa, Oklahoma reportedly has a population of over 400,000 people. Founded well over 150 years ago, the initial success of Tulsa was based on the oil industry. However, Tulsa has become more of a “college town” over the last 10 years, not only being the site of multiple universities but also innovative and burgeoning arts and culinary scenes.

I had the pleasure of visiting Tulsa earlier this month — including time spent at the Fairfield Downtown Arts District hotel — and in the process of that 3-day trip, I learned about the city’s rich musical history. Below are some of the impressive facts and concepts that I learned about thanks to representatives from the George Kaiser Family Foundation. More on Tulsa can be found at www.visittulsa.com.

#1: Tulsa was the home of Shelter Records.

Founded by Leon Russell and Denny Cordell, Tulsa-based Shelter Records record label was responsible for signing the likes of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Gap Band, J.J. Cale, Phoebe Snow, and Bob Marley.

#2: Many people call Leon Russell “Tulsa’s favorite son” and with good reason.

Shelter Records and solo career aside, Leon Russell made musical history on an international basis. His recording credits include Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, while his music has been recorded by the likes of Elton John, Joe Cocker, The Carpenters, Ray Charles, Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse. Russell’s archives are currently being curated for public exhibition by entertainment producer Dub Cornett.

#3: Leon Russell is only one of many acclaimed entertainers to have Tulsa roots.

Among the individuals who are current and/or previous residents of Tulsa are Garth Brooks, Hanson, Gary Busey, Bill Hader, Elvin Bishop, St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, Jim Keltner and the aforementioned Gap Band.

#4: Leon Russell is also not the only major musician whose archives are housed in Tulsa.

Another in-the-works project, thanks to the George Kaiser Family Foundation, is the creation of Bob Dylan’s archives as a permanent exhibit. Expect to see around 6,000 items showcasing nearly 60 years of Dylan’s career, including handwritten lyrics, rare recordings, memorabilia and studio artifacts, which will be housed in the Tulsa Arts District.

#5: A pop culture-centric museum is coming to Tulsa in 2021.

The Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture — or OKPOP, for short — will be opening across the street from Cain’s Ballroom less than 2 years from now. It is expected to be the home of the aforementioned Leon Russell collection beyond items from other Oklahoma-related entertainers. Interestingly, the state of Oklahoma already has over 250 museums to its credit.

#6: Woody Guthrie already has a museum set up in Tulsa.

The Woody Guthrie Center is an open-to-the-public museum and archive in Tulsa, Oklahoma that is dedicated to the life and legacy of American folk musician and singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie. The Center also contains the archives of folk singer, songwriter, and fellow social activist Phil Ochs. Currently the state-of-the-art facility — which includes a virtual reality area — has a John Cougar Mellencamp exhibit inclusive of instruments and other artifacts.

#7: Bob Wills’ tour bus has been found and restored.

Bob Wills is widely regarded as the “King Of Western Swing.” Wills and his Texas Playboys were among the first-ever nationally-touring artists and had what many people recognize as the first-ever customized tour bus. That 1948 bus was found a few years ago, has since been restored and is scheduled to be on display at the OKPOP facility.

#8: Hanson is not only still based in Tulsa, but very active locally.

It has been over 20 years since Hanson first made a global impact, and the trio of brothers is still playing theaters and big festivals around the world. In Tulsa, the group not not only has its own festival — The Hop Jam Beer & Music Festival — in Tulsa, but also its own brewing company in collaboration with Mustang Brewing. Mmmhops first came onto the market in 2013 with more brews coming on the market since then, including the Tulsa Tea stout.

#9: Fans of the movie The Outsiders may be surprised about who owns the house the acclaimed film was set in.

The 1983 film The Outsiders was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and helped launch the careers of C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, and Diane Lane. The house used for filming, as located at 731 Curtis Brothers, has been restored into a museum. The owner of it, you ask? House Of Pain rapper Danny Boy. It will be open to the public in the near-future.

#10: Another movie filmed in Tulsa was UHF.

A 1989 film co-written by, starring and featuring music by “Weird Al” Yankovic, UHF is an undeniable cult classic. Among the locations filmed for UHF were Harden’s Hamburgers, Rose Bowl Lanes, Joey’s House Of The Blues, Ernie Miller Pontiac, First Christian Church, and Tulsa International Airport. In turn, you can theoretically do an UHF tour while visiting Tulsa.

#11: There is no shortage of live music in Tulsa.

Beyond the earlier-named Cain’s Ballroom, Tulsa has a fine mix of large, intimate and outdoor venues. This includes the BOK Center, Mabee Center, Brady Theater (which will become the Tulsa Theater in 2019), The Vanguard, The Shrine, IDL Ballroom, The Colony, and the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. In turn, there are worthwhile concerts to check out every night of the week when you are in Tulsa.

#12: The BOK Center is one of the arenas which artists strive to play.

The Bank Of Oklahoma Center — or the BOK Center, for short — opened in 2008 and has hosted countless major artists, including Paul McCartney, U2, Justin Timberlake, AC/DC, Metallica, The Weeknd and Lady Gaga. Venue Today ranked it #1 in the Midwest in 2014 for top stops for venues of 15,0001 and more seats. Furthermore, the BOK Center was named Arena of the Year by IEBA for the second time in 2018. The arena may have a “Super Secret Speakeasy” on-site.

#13: Broadway shows are not just happening in New York these days.

Tulsa has long been home to opera, symphonic orchestra performances and theatrical presentations. Tulsa has been attracting national touring productions of many top Broadway shows in recent years, including Kinky Boots and The Book Of Mormon. Hamilton is coming to Tulsa this summer with performances confirmed at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center starting on August 20th.

#14: There are also concert options right outside of Tulsa’s downtown area.

Tulsa has a number of nearby casinos, including the Osage Casino, River Spirit Casino Resort and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. It is also close to the annual 3-day hard rock music festival known as Rocklahoma, as centered in nearby Pryor; 2018’s performers included A Perfect Circle, The Cult, Stone Temple Pilots, Cheap Trick and Godsmack. The new park known as The Gathering Place hosted The Roots on its central lawn as part of its opening weekend. And that is without factoring in how close Tulsa is to Oklahoma City, which — aside from the occasional game held in Tulsa — is home to the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

#15: Tulsa will pay you to move there.

If you are a remote worker, Tulsa Remote is offering a $10,000 stipend to help you relocate there. If you are an artist, the deal is even sweeter with a $20,000 award in addition to free housing and studio space for the first year; the goal of this arrangement being that Tulsa is looking to expand its art movement and bring more talented people into the city. In turn, Tulsa is a welcoming place for all sorts of people from out of state.

You can apply for the Tulsa Artist Fellowship online at www.tulsaartistfellowship.org.


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About the Author

is a New York resident (and Long Island native) with over 15 years of entertainment industry experience. He began working around the music business as a teenager, interning for the manager of his then-favorite band Superdrag. In the years following, he worked with a wide array of artists including OK Go, They Might Be Giants, Mike Viola, Loudness, Rachael Yamagata, and Amanda Palmer.Darren's writing has appeared in dozens of outlets including the New York Daily News, Inquisitr, The Daily Meal, The Hype Magazine, All Music Guide, Guitar World, TheStreet.com, Format Magazine, Businessweek, The Improper, the L.A. Times, and the Jewish Journal. He has been a member of the SATW and the IFWTWA organizations as a food and travel writer.Beyond being "Editor At Large" for The Hype Magazine, Darren is also the host the recently-launched "Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz" podcast, as co-produced with PureGrainAudio.


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