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Oklahoma is the traditional homeland of the Caddo, Wichita, and Tonkawa peoples. 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 Native American musicians. This rich collection of traditional music is performed in powwows all over the state. Additionally, the music is enriched by Indian musicians' 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.
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.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.
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, and Caroline's Spine. 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. 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.
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 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. Bob Dunn was a pioneer steel guitarist born in Beggs.
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)