March 16, 1932 -- October 24, 1999
Matthew McClarty played music for over 60 years, dedicating the last 35-40 to gospel music that demonstrates a strong influence of blues and R&B from his early career.
The Ada, Oklahoma native first learned music by listening to his older brother play guitar – and practicing on the instrument when he was at work, despite strict warnings not to do so. While it hung on the wall out of reach, the child stood on a chair to reach it, not daring to take it down.
His early chording and picking styles reflected this unusual practice method. Eventually, his brother heard that Matthew had been playing his guitar and told him to tune it – “He was shocked when I took it and tuned it right quick.”
McClarty learned to sing and play by listening to the radio and music from the nearby dance hall. He won a talent show contest when he was eight, and at 13 won a state competition at Langston University. He was the first black on radio station KADA, playing Bob Willis’ Western swing and blues.
In 1952, he joined Tony Wise and the Bleu Notes and toured with that band throughout Texas and Oklahoma. Eventually he returned to the church, where he continued to perform as a gospel singer and piano player. In 1982, McClarty and his two sons played in Washington, D.C. at the Oklahoma Diamond Jubilee, as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.