May 15, 1998
The music we now call Country and Western may have begun its climb to national popularity right here in this part of Oklahoma due to Otto Gray and his Oklahoma Cowboys, musicians who called Stillwater home in the early 1920s. At least that's the premise of the lead article in the current issue of the Oklahoma Historical Society's excellent quarterly publication, The Chronicles of Oklahoma. The article, written by Carla Chlouber, is entitled: "Otto Gray and his Oklahoma Cowboys -- the Country's First Commercial Western Band."
I for one have never heard of Otto Gray's band, but he was performing in front of large and wildly enthusiastic audiences before my time. The band apparently was well known in Perry and throughout this area in the 1920s because of their home base at Stillwater, but by no means were their appearances confined to Oklahoma. They played in Springfield and St. Louis, MO, Pittsburgh, PA, and other points, according to Mrs. Chlouber's piece, but they also were booked into Perry, Enid, Guthrie and Chandler, among many other towns.
Mrs. Chlouber writes: "Most historians of country music trace its commercial beginnings to what was called hillbilly music, first recorded in the South in the early 1920s." She adds that the Western part of Country and Western had its origins in recordings of cowboy songs by Texans Vernon Dalhart and Carl T. Sprague in the mid-1920s. A few authorities mention Otto Gray and his Oklahoma Cowboys as the first band to popularize Western music in the U.S., but today few people are aware of the pioneering group and the part it played in the nation's cultural history.
There is much more to the article and all of it is interesting. If you're not a member of the Oklahoma Historical Society and therefore do not receive the Chronicles, look for this one at your favorite book store. Then send in your membership and start receiving this dandy little publication when each new volume is released. It's well worth the price. Mrs. Chlouber is managing editor of agricultural publication at Oklahoma State University her husband, Dale Chlouber, is curator of the Washington Irving Trail Museum at Ripley. He assisted with research for the article.
Oklahoma City's annual Festival of the Arts now ranks among the top events of its type in the country, and this year's was among the best ever. That's the opinion of those who attended the Festival as well as the artists who exhibited there. A lot of the credit for that success belongs to Cynthia A. Cope, a young lady who grew up in Perry. Cynthia, the daughter of Christine Trussel and the late Alfred Trussel, is area manager of external affairs for Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. and served as co-chairman of the 1998 Festival. You are seeing her name and photo in a series of ads being run by Southwestern Bell in The Daily Oklahoman.