Oklahoma’s Blues Heritage

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Selby Minner at her Down Home Blues Club

By Selby Minner and Irene Johnson
dut − da-dah-duh − dah-de-dup!” My bass rang out across the crowd… I could hardly breathe! He had me starting the song as a solo − indeed the whole set! Up the steps he came, out from behind the stage and into the light, sporting a yellow ice cream suit and a big red guitar. The drums kicked in, the rest of the band, and then…

Mr. Lowell Fulson hit the microphone and the place came alive: “TRAMP! You can call me that! But I’m a LOVER!” I was holding the bass line – one of the greatest bass lines.

The man at the top of the West Coast blues was back home in Tulsa, and Juneteenth on Greenwood was rocking! D.C. was wearing ‘old shiny’ − his green and red tux jacket − with his red guitar. Big Dave ‘Bigfoot’ Carr was in from Spencer, OK, with his sax. Jimmy Ellis on guitar and vocals, and Bob ‘Pacemaker’ Newham on traps. It was 1989 and Lowell Fulson was at home to be inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. He later said he would come back to play the Traditions Festival in Oklahoma City in the fall, but only if he had the same backup band! Such an honor to play with an Oklahoma legend!

Oklahoma’s unique history and heritage

Oklahoma’s unique history and heritage provided fertile ground to grow its particular blues sound. n the meantime, before we can dive into the blues, let’s travel back to Oklahoma before it gained statehood in 1907. I call it the wild west − where anything could happen.

Between the 1830s to 1850s, Native Americans of the Five Tribes were forcibly marched on the Trails of Tears from their homelands. The southeastern United States to the eastern part of modern Oklahoma, was called “Indian Territory” then. With them, they brought their African American slaves. Slavery in Indian Territory varied widely. This ranged from resembling white cotton plantations, to practicing intermarriage and allowing other extended freedoms. Linda Reese cites, “By the time of the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the tribes’ members owned approximately ten thousand slaves.”

Gettysburg of the West

The Civil War was fought from 1861 to 1865. Dr. Hugh W. Foley, Jr. writes, “The Civil War’s presence in Indian Territory is directly related to Black pride in the area, as the Battle of Honey Springs, fought July 17, 1863, witnessed the first pitched combat by uniformed African American troops, the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment, who fought alongside Anglo and American Indian troops. Fought just north of what is now Rentiesville, the battle has been called the ‘Gettysburg of the West.'” Some of the battle took place on the land where Selby and husband D.C. Minner and established the Down Home Blues Club. The club hosts the popular Rentiesville Dusk ‘Til Dawn Blues Festival, the Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame and the D.C. Minner Rentiesville Museum. Consequently, some soldiers from that battle went on to help found Rentiesville.

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