1992 Inductees

Samuel Aaron Bell born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1921, became a multi-faceted jazzman of extraordinary and diverse accomplishments, and performed with Duke Ellington's Orchestra, died on July 28, 2003. Cause of death was not released. He was 82.

When he was a child, Bell's mother taught him to play the piano. In high school, he learned the trumpet and the tuba. Bell entered Xavier University in New Orleans in 1938 and was introduced to the bass violin, for which he showed an immediate and natural affinity that startled and impressed his teachers. Xavier bandmaster Allegretto Alexander assigned bassist Bell to both the university’s stage band and swing band. 

Bell graduated in 1942 and spent the next four years in a U. S. Navy Band. Immediately after being discharged from the Navy, Bell returned to Muskogee to teach music and take charge of the Manuel Training High School Concert and Marching Band, which he led to a championship at the all-state competition in Enid. This career phase ended when Bell sat in with Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy band when it played in Tulsa. He toured with Kirk for a year, then entered New York University and earned his first Master’s degree, in music education, in 1951. He resumed performing, first with Teddy Wilson at the Embers Club in New York, then freelanced with such luminaries John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Lester Young , Stan Getz, J. J. Johnson, Lucky Millinder, Jimmy Lunceford, and Cab Calloway. 

Bell served as bassist, arranger and pianist and conductor for Sammy Davis, Jr. in the early 1960s, worked as staff bassist for the NBC studio orchestra, played numerous Broadway shows; and recorded frequently, scoring several albums in his own name for the MGM, RCA and Herald labels.

In 1969, Bell joined the music faculty of Essex County College in Newark, New Jersey. His tenure there included more than 10 years as chair of the Performing Arts Department and a wide range of other responsibilities, including creating and the directorship of the instrumental and jazz program and serving as professor of theory, counterpoint, orchestration and jazz. Bell earned a second Master’s degree and Doctorate in theory and composition from Columbia University. He is considered the foremost academic authority on Ellington’s music. Bell’s achievements and credentials are extensive and should be reviewed elsewhere. 

Ruth Brown relished her career and t he sure knowledge that “overnight sensation” or “one-hit wonder” can never be applied to her.  

That career really began in the late 1940s when she switched from what she’d been doing – pop-singing for USO shows and big bands in the South during World War II – to rhythm-and-blues music. The record “So Long” skyrocketed in 1949, and she became one of the giants of this idiom. 

Brown’s brilliantly successful early career was followed by eventual decline and by near-retirement, then re-emergence from that stage, and recent, spectacular achievements that solidly underscore her stature as a widely recognized blues artist. 

In 1989, Brown won a Tony Award as Best Actress in a Broadway Musical – “Black and Blue,” – and followed that in 1990 when she was named Best Female Jazz Vocalist for her “Blues on Broadway” record album.

Getting the Tony “gave me the most incredible feeling I ever had. I never imagined that it would come to be for doing something I’ve been doing for 45 years….”

The Portsmouth, Virginia native made her musical debut as a teenage singing spirituals in her church choir, but eschewed the blues that her father called the “devil’s music.” She became one of the premier recording artists of the 1950s whose work influenced singers like Aretha Franklin and Bonnie Raitt. She had 5 No. 1 hits and over two dozen top ten hits on the R&B charges in the 50s. She recorded more than 80 songs for Atlantic records, and sold so many LPs that Atlantic was called “The House that Ruth Built.”

By the mid 60s, she had eased into semi-retirement, moving to Long Island with her two children. But, after four years of working and struggling at the job of suburban homemaker, Brown decided to return full-time to what s he had done so well. She helped the International Art and Jazz start its arts in education program performing in schools throughout Long Island and New York State.

Her turning point came when Mr. Foxx (Redd) sent her a plane ticket and $500 to come to Los Angeles. Things began to change slowly – walk-on parts on “Sanford and Son” and “Hello Larry;” then there were tours of Europe and Asia; settlement of litigation that resolved copyright problems, the reissue of some of her hits on Atlantic Records and new album for Fantasy Records. 

Brown was born January 30, 1928 and died November 17, 2006.

Born in Washington, D.C. in 1899, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington is one of the most loved and influential figures in jazz and all American music.  At seventeen Ellington began playing piano professionally and in 1923 formed a small band called The Washingtonians.  He moved to New York to be the house band at the Club Kentucky and later at Harlem’s Cotton Club where both his fame and the size of his band grew. The orchestra became a breeding ground for famous jazz musicians. The orchestra introduced hundreds of masterpieces and jazz standards written by Ellington, members of the orchestra including Billy Strayhorn, Ellington’s alter ego and writing partner, Juan Tizole and Ellington’s son, Mercer. In the 40s, Ellington’s goal became to extend jazz beyond the limits of the three-minute 78rpm record side to greater works in the vein of operas and symphonies. He did so with such works as “Black, Brown and Beige,” about African-Americans and the place of slavery and the church in their history, “Suck Sweet Thunder,” based on plays and characters from the works of Shakespeare and “The Queen’s Suite,” dedicated to Queen Elizabeth II.  Ellington also appeared in many films throughout his career and scored films including Anatomy of a Murder and Paris Blues. He also wrote an original score for Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens and a Broadway musical, Beggar’s Holiday. Duke Ellington is an icon of American music and of pop culture, working as a musician, composer, bandleader, actor and writer.  In 1969 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 1973 he was awarded the French Legion of Honor. Ellington died of lung cancer and pneumonia in 1974. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame as an Icon in 1992.

Born in Guthrie, Oklahoma, pianist, composer and bandleader, Joe Liggins established his national reputation as early as an early 1940s rhythm-and-blues musician and leader in California. It was “The Honeydripper” (sold more than a million copies during 1945-46) and “I’ve Got a Right to Cry” (hit 1.8 million copies) that contributed to his rise to prominence. This was a first in the history of rhythm and blues music. Liggins had written “The Honeydripper” in 1942 but was unable to persuade big bandleaders to record it. Their lack of foresight opened the way to Liggins’ own huge success. The band soon became known as Joe Liggins and the Honeydrippers. He and his band toured the country into the 1970s, when he tired of the grind and settled in Compton, playing local southern California venues and recorded occasionally.

His music foreshadowed rock and roll. The respect in which Liggins was held in that context caused a problem got him in 2984 when the  “Honeydripper” name was adopted for a new group formed by Robert Plant, former Led Zeppelin vocalist, to honor Liggins and other rhythm-and-blues giants. Although it was great publicity, the honoree wasn’t pleased; however, and pressured Plant through newspapers until Plant’s record label dropped the idea.  He died July 31, 1987. Joe Liggins was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1992.

Kenneth E. Kilgore, Minister of Music of St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, and Administrative Assistant and Music Coordinator, organized the first Ambassadors of Faith Choir in 1979 as a component of the music department of the church. 

The need for a choir that would devote special study to the choral classics inspired its establishment. The first performance by the 42-voice group was a Christmas Eve concert in 1979 that offered an audience of more than 1,000 selections from Handel’s Messiah, as well as light classic, spiritual and gospel selections.

The first concert was extremely well-received and attracted the attention of a number of singers from other churches. The decision was made to move the choir into the broader Oklahoma City community and to include more people and a wider spectrum of music. The choir was incorporated in January 1983, and a Board of Trustees was established that included Mr. Kilgore, Norma Noble, Ollie Haskins, Terry Spigner, Nathaniel Starks and the late William S. Roche.

Purposes of the organization defined in its by-laws are to provide the opportunity for serious study and performance of music of all genres, to bring about a community awareness of and appreciation for music of all genres, to encourage the musical development of high school students, and to provide workshops for the strengthening of adult musicians.