1989 Inductees

Zelia N. Page was born in 1880 in Jefferson City, Missouri, where she finished college at Lincoln Institute.  She received her master’s degree from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She taught at Langston University as head of the Music Department, Oklahoma City Public Schools as Supervisor of Music, and conducted many musicals throughout the United States. She became a legend in Oklahoma City because of her superior musical talents and her complete music education, and Oklahoma City became a center for music education in colored schools and Douglass High School band became one of the best high school bands in the entire southwest among black schools.

She never gave jazz lectures but rather encouraged students to learn about and to play jazz through ensembles. At that time, and as late as 1954, she was not allowed to teach a class called Jazz in high school. Musical greats John Anglin, Sherman Sneed, Al Dennie, Alva Lee McCain, Edward and Charlie Christian, Lloyd and Malcolm Whitby, Juanita Burns Bolar, Leon nelson, Francis “Doc” Whitby, Cornelius Earl Pittman and Jimmy Rushing were among those on the long list taught by Zelia Page Breaux.

Before her death in 1956, she was recognized as the spirit of the new day for Negro History in America, which came to be known as “The Dawn of a New Day.” This movement embraced the use of the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Breaux was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1989.

 Charlie Christian, a Bonham native born in “Tank Town”, in 1919, died in New York City in 1942. He was raised in Oklahoma City, where he studied with his father, played bass in Alphonso Trent’s band, guitar in combos around Oklahoma, the Jeter Pillars orchestra in St. Louis. Christian introduced single-string on the amplified guitar.  He wasn’t the first to use the electric guitar, but was the first to put it in the front line in the solo spotlight. He played mostly single lines, like horn players. He had a warm, full sound, and that, along with other things set a standard which future jazz guitarists would aspire to in terms of sound. He helped Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and others build a good portion of modern American jazz. 

John Hammond heard him and recommended him to the Benny Goodman. Christian joined the band in September 1939. Goodman said of Christian that he was one of the most terrific musicians that had been produced in years. Christian played Carnegie Hall with Goodman and revolutionized the guitar as a jazz instrument. Christian joined the band in September 1939.
Jay McShann remembered Christian in Dallas at the Texas Centennial. He recalled that Christian “was playing a bass fiddle. And he could play that bass fiddle and whip it as well as “Sam “Slam” Stewart and some of those other guys who were known for their bass fiddle playing.”

Christian was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1989.

Fields first earned nationwide recognition as “The Gentleman of Swing” and then “Mr. In the Mood.” His Tulsa-based orchestra was formed in T-Town in the mid-thirties and made its debut at the famed Apollo Theatre in New York City in 1939. In 1941, “Chicago Defender” newspaper poll of Best Bands and Musicians in the U.S., Ernie Fields ranked 8th out of 26, behind only the older, more established bands. His band, “America’s Sweetest Swing Band,” was catapulted into national prominence when it placed high in Cash Box Magazine’s 1959 poll for Best Pop Orchestra in the U.S. and following an appearance of the band on the Dick Clark Show. He credits Walter “Foots” Thomas, a young Muskogee man, with influencing him to become a professional musician.  Upon graduation from high school, Fields went to Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. After quite a struggle getting into the band at Tuskegee, Fields soon formed a college band and played gigs in Tuskegee and surrounding little Macon County towns.  Later he recorded several hits: “T-Town Blues,” “Butch’s Blues,” “Lard Stomp” and others during the 30s and 40s. His rock and roll version of “In the Mood” topped the Billboard and Cashbox charts in 1959-60. “In The Mood” earned Fields a gold record designating over a million sales. 

Texas born, but Taft, Oklahoma-raised, Fields toured across the United States for over 30 years In Big Band Blues, author Albert McCarthy notes Fields’ recordings “suggest that the band possessed the potential for a greater success than it ever achieved.” Jazz scholar Gunther Schuller in his book, The Swing Era, said, “In terms of medium-tempo relaxed swing and, in general a wonderful sense of rhythmic well being, the band was heard to match, let alone beat.”  Ernie Fields, Sr. a trombonist, songwriter, and band leader, was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1989.

A native of Tulsa, born in 1921, Fulson began playing professionally as a blues guitarist and singer at the age of 18. Shortly thereafter, Fulson moved to Los Angeles to start his own band that would include a young Ray Charles. Fulson’s gift to the blues was as a composer. He wrote many songs that have become blues standards including “3 O’clock Blues,” “Everyday I Have the Blues,” and “Reconsider Baby,” which was named by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.” Fulson’s career spanned over half of the twentieth century and he was an innovator throughout. He played all styles of blues from grass-roots acoustic to urban blues, Texas blues and even funk. He continued to be an important blues figure into his later life until 1997 when his ailing health forced him into retirement. He died two years later leaving behind a catalog of blues standards that have been covered by Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, Ray Charles and Otis Redding. Fulson played Tulsa’s first Juneteenth on Greenwood along with other 1989 inductees. Lowell Fulson, a blues guitarist and singer, was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1989. 

Born in Muskogee in 1916, James Columbus McShann began work as a professional musician in 1931, playing blues and swing piano in Tulsa and the surrounding areas. Five years later, he moved to Kansas City and formed his own big band including a young Charlie Parker on sax. After experiencing some local success, the group was forced to disband when in 1944 McShann was drafted into the Army. Though he continued to play after the war, he fell into obscurity until 1969 when he became popular as a singer as well as a pianist often playing with fellow Oklahoman, Claude “Fiddler” Williams. McShann was featured in Clint Eastwood’s documentary, “Piano Blues,” part of Executive Producer Martin Scorsese’s “The Blues” series. In his later life McShann performed mostly in Kansas City and Toronto until his death in 2006. In 1987 Jay was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship Grant Award in the amount of $20,000 through the Music Program.

Jay McShann was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1989, and was the first recipient of the Jay McShann Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999 – named in his honor.

Jessie Mae Renfro Sapp performed professionally for over 52 years. Born October, 3, 1921, into a musical family, she was immersed in gospel music – playing and singing from an early age. “Looking for something different,” she sang jazz as a teenager in Dallas, but after two years she returned to gospel music that was such an important part of her childhood. Beginning in 1952, Sapp recorded many sides with Peacock Recording Company of Houston, TX, which was in those days one of the most important purveyors of Black sacred music. One album, “He’s So Wonderful,” remained on Billboard’s gospel charts for almost three years. In her many years as a performer, Sapp has appeared in churches and auditoriums almost every one of the United States. 

Evangelist Jessie Mae Renfro Sapp was one of the last traditional Gospel Singers to pass in this century.
Born Claude Gabriel Williams on February 22, 1908, in Muskogee, Oklahoma, Williams spent most of his life and career in Kansas City. His brother-in-law, Ben Johnson, played guitar in a local string band, which intrigued the young Claude. By age 10, Williams was playing his own guitar. It wasn’t until he heard the music of Joe Venuti that he became interested in the violin. 

Violinist Claude "Fiddler" Williams' career spanned much of the history of jazz. Known for his swinging, bluesy style and his musical sense of humor, he was as comfortable playing the guitar as on violin. Williams still performed and recorded into his mid-90, but the elder statesman hardly had time to note his longevity.

After tireless practicing, Claude received his first professional gig playing in his brother-in-law’s group. In 1927, he joined T. Holder, trumpeter, and his Clouds of Joy. Holder was soon replaced by Andy Kirk. During the 20s and 30s, Williams was the top violinist in Kansas City and went head to head in jam sessions with visiting fiddlers including Stuff Smith and horn players including Ben Webster and Lester young. 

Claude traveled to Illinois where he played both violin and guitar in a number of ensembles, including the Nat King Cole Trio and the Count Basie Orchestra. Later, in the 1940s and '50s he played with saxophonist Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson and pianists Hank Jones and Jay McShann. But in that entire time -- a span of almost thirty years -- Claude had not participated in any studio recording sessions until he sat in on with McShann. It began a second career for the fiddler.

In 1993, Claude was recruited by fiddler Mark O'Connor to teach at a camp outside of Nashville, TN. Well into his ninth decade, Williams continued to share his infectious jump-blues style with everyone from children at the summer camp to sophisticated audiences at the world's premiere jazz festivals. The 1989 Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame inductee Claude Williams died of pneumonia at his home in Kansas City on Sunday, April 26, 2004.