Musical Legacies of the Dust Bowl - Oklahoma Center for the Humanities
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Musical Legacies of the Dust Bowl

The Oklahoma Center for the Humanities is excited to announce Musical Legacies of the Dust Bowl, a gallery exhibition and public symposium that will feature experts discussing the impact of Oklahoma music on the American conscience since the 1930s.

The public events will host historians, authors, musicians, and music producers of all kinds who will convene at the Zarrow Center in the heart of Tulsa’s Arts District to explore the factors that shaped Oklahoma music and its legacies. In the early 20th century, American music—influenced by the climate crisis of the Dust Bowl, the financial crisis of the Great Depression, and the burgeoning Electric Age—became one of the nation’s crowning achievements.

A gallery exhibition, curated by OCH Assistant Director Dr. Dayne Riley, will accompany the public events. This exhibition will feature visual/graphic and interactive musical materials to capture the various sounds and sights of the music that connected people in times of crisis.

Public Events

Friday, October 7

5:00pm-6:00pm Keynote: “Binding Time: Inside the World of Dust-to-Digital

with April and Lance Ledbetter

6:00pm-9:00pm: Exhibition Opening and Live Music at the Zarrow Center

Saturday, October 8

2:00pm-3:20pm Panel: Sharing Oklahoma Music

with John Wooley, Aaron Leonard, and Barron Ryan

3:20pm-4:00pm Break

4:00pm-5:20pm Panel: Making Music Material

with Susan Schmidt Horning, Jess DiPesa, and Natty Gray

5:20pm-6:30pm Closing Reception


Dust-to-Digital: Binding Time

Our first event commences on Friday, October 7 at 5:00pm with a keynote address from Lance and April Ledbetter, founders of the Grammy award-winning label, Dust-to-Digital. Since 1999, Lance and April have been on a mission to bring little-known music back from the margins of history, breathing new life into it. They design reissues of various digital and physical media, from MP3s to cassette tapes and CDs.

Live music featuring Tulsa musician, Chris Blevins will conclude the evening.

Sharing Oklahoma Music

On Saturday, the event will continue with our expert panels. The first, Sharing Oklahoma Music, will focus on Oklahoma music since the Dust Bowl and how it, like many of its notable players, spread across the United States and the globe. A radio host, a historian, and a musician will discuss the role of  Oklahomans in crafting the soundscape of Dust Bowl-era America.

“From the Blue Devils to Red Dirt: The Colors of Oklahoma Music” 

John Wooley, author and host of KWGS’s Swing on This

“Woody & Sis: Sharing Music & Catching Hell” 

Aaron Leonard, author of The Folk Singers and the Bureau

“An Okie Abroad: Taking Music Beyond Borders” 

Barron Ryan, pianist and one of Smithsonian Magazine’s Ten Innovators to Watch in 2021

Making Music Material

Our second panel will focus on music’s materiality. At the turn of the century, innovations in recording techniques, radio technology, and instruments craftwork came together to produce the music that still reverberates in our Internet Age. Making Music Material will bring together one ground-breaking historian, a guitar craftsperson, and a member of local collective Cult Love Sound Tapes to explore the matter that makes music.

“From Mechanical Recorders to Magnetic Tape: Cutting Tracks in the Analog Era” 

Susan Schmidt Horning, author of Chasing Sound

“Frozen Innovations: Niche Mid-Century Guitar Technology” 

Jess DiPesa, guitar and instrument technician at Tulsa’s own Guitar Technical Services

“Community on Cassette Redux” 

Natty Gray, member of the art, music, and film collective Cult Love Sound Tapes

The Musical Legacies of the Dust Bowl exhibit and public lectures have been made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in partnership with the Social Science Research Council.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Social Science Research Council.