1994 Inductees

HOBART MELVIN BANKS, SR.
Hobart Banks was born in Rentiesville, Oklahoma, August 17, 1907. His family always had a piano in the home, and he took to it with complete naturalness and an astounding sense of how to play it. He was a child prodigy on the instrument. “He began playing the piano when he was about three years of age,” his mother said, and reached the point very soon where could play any composition once he had listened to it.

The family moved from Arkansas City, Kansas to Muskogee, fertile ground for such other Oklahoma jazz greats as Jay McShann, Claude Williams, and Barney Kessel. Young Hobart obtained all of his education in the Muskogee Public School System, participating in all of the music programs offered.

He played regularly as a teenager at Muskogee’s Grand Theater before the advent of taking pictures. He loved music dearly and had the gifts to perform it strikingly. Perfect pitch, according to his harmony teacher – “he could reproduce any musical sound he heard.
Banks worked with many bands – Ben Johnson’s and Leonard Howard’s Muskogee bands, Bucky Coleman’s band in Oklahoma City and Ernie Fields in Tulsa – and traveled all over the Southwest to perform. He played with a “Who’s Who” of well known musicians – McShann, Clarence Love, Ernie Fields, Jr., Don Byas, Earl Jackson, Kessel and Aaron Bell. During the Harlem Renaissance, he played at the famed Cotton Club in New York.Banks passed away in 1957.

DOROTHY DONEGAN
Dorothy Donegan, literally a jazz piano artist for age, was a master of all idioms of the art form. Born in Chicago in 1922, Donegan played seemingly forever and has gotten better with the passing years in the judgments of leading critics. Leonard Feathers, perhaps the nation’s foremost jazz critic, wrote in Jazz Times magazine that “Dorothy Donegan is the unfairly forgotten woman of jazz. A pianist of extraordinary talent….” The New York Times’ John Wilson said, “She can be the lustiest, most exciting, hard-swinging and virtuosic jazz pianist in the world….one of the most brilliant pianists, male or female, that jazz has ever known.
Donegal has considered the master of staggering range of pianistic styles – jazz, ragtime, boogie-woogie, gospel and blues, as well as classical music. In the stage of her long career, she’s a “staple” on the national jazz music circuit and can perform virtually as often as she wants.

She was recognized as a child prodigy and began her piano training at the age of 8 in Chicago. She made her concert debut at Orchestra Hall at 18, playing a selection that included Mendelssohn and Chopin as well as jazz standards. She became a prominent figure on the Chicago jazz scene in the 1930s, so prominent, in fact, that Art Tatum sought her out to become her mentor.

She went on to nightclub appearances and recording, film work, and a Broadway play. She married in 1948 and raised two sons while continuing her career. During the 1950s, she played the top supper clubs in the country. And in the 1990s, although the club names have changed, she’s still a regular as well as a major attraction at jazz festivals abroad and in the United States. Dorothy Donegan passed away May 19, 1998.

THOMAS A. DORSEY
Thomas E. Dorsey is recognized as the founding father of gospel blues, a blending of sacred texts with blues or blues-inspired tunes – which originated in the 1930s in Chicago’s African-American, old-line Protestant churches largely because of Dorsey’s blues-influenced composing and singing.

Thomas Andrew Dorsey, known as “Georgia Tom” at the time, enjoyed considerable success in the 1920s as pianist, composer and arranger for prominent blues singers including Ma Rainey. He was drawn to sacred music, which he was eventually instrumental in revolutionizing, but he was torn between secular blues and gospel blues until a personal tragedy struck him like a thunderbolt in August 1932.

In St. Louis for one of the first gospel conventions, Dorsey lost his wife in childbirth while he was gone and his new baby boy the night he returned to Chicago. The loss was the inspiration for Dorsey’s best-known gospel song, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”

Dorsey was immensely influenced in blues-oriented gospel music that swept African-American churches and their services and in the gospel music conventions that he popularized. Resistance to the roots of his style of music triggered significant controversy within the church community first, however.

“Wade in the Water,” a National Public Radio series produced with the Smithsonian Institution, recently focused on Dorsey and the gospel blues legacy that he left. “He wrote simply in words that could be sung readily by every-day people,” according to one observer, “but his music was naturally powerful and elevating.”

Dorsey was instrumental in organization of the first blues gospel choir at Chicago’s Ebenezer Baptist church in 1931, contributing the “down-home blues-man’s perspective to the musical conceptualizing of two churchmen from the deep south. The result was a chorus given status by the fact that it was established within the context of an old-line Chicago church, but possessed of a sound unlike any in memory.

A Public Broadcasting System special, “Somebody Say Amen,” keyed on Dorsey and his vast contributions in the Chicago foundations of gospel blues as a sacred song style. After Chicago, gospel blues spread like wildfire to St. Louis, Detroit, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia, everywhere that established African-American church congregations had been flooded with migration of deep-south blacks.

VERBIE GENE “FLASH” TERRY
A legend in his own time and, simultaneously, completely down-to-earth at all times. Born in Inola, Oklahoma and moving to Tulsa in the late 1940s, Terry’s early influences in his guitar- and blues-playing were his father, Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker, Gatemouth Brown and Butch Lucky. Terry sat in on occasions with Ernie Fields, but it was 1953 when he got his first real gig with Jimmy “Cry Cry” Hawkins and he did his first national tour in 1955 with Floyd Nixon. Flash was on the same show with  Otis Redding, James Brown and many other blues guys “making history and didn’t even know it.” Flash played all around the U.S. and was convinced that Tulsa had the best musicians. “There are a lot of great players in Tulsa and hardly any of them have an attitude.” Terry said he never smoked, drank or did drugs and was respected because he kept a clean band.  When Terry retired from the bus company, MTTA, he and his band toured Europe because “I’ve heard that I’m well known in Germany.” He just wanted to retire and play his guitar and have some fun.  

Governor Henry Bellman presented Flash Terry and the Uptown Blues Band a state of excellence award in 1988 while at the request of Senator Maxine Horner, District 11, Terry and his band received a Citation of Appreciation designating them as “Oklahoma’s Favorite Blues Band.” Terry died March 18, 2003. 

FLOYD RICHARD WILEY
The late Floyd Wiley was a native Tulsan w ho taught music, voice and elementary education in the Beggs and Tulsa Public Schools for 23 years and served both Mt. Rose Baptist Church, as minister of music, and the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, in various similar capacities. 

Wiley was widely known in gospel music circles as singer, composer, director, arranger, pianist, organist and accompanist. And like Flash Terry, he was widely known in Tulsa, and celebrated, as a warm, giving human being.

He was born in April, 1939, attended elementary school in Tulsa, graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1957, and received a degree in  music from Langston University.
A child prodigy, Floyd was a known pianist by the age of three and served Paradise Baptist Church as its youngest musician ever. He played for weddings, funerals and reunions all over the United States and won acclaim as an accompanist for such luminaries as Mahalia Jackson and the Reverend James Cleveland. He worked with the late Thomas A. Dorsey, for three years in National Singing Convention Workshops in Chicago, St. Louis and Oklahoma City.
Wiley served four years in the U. S. Army, organizing many gospel choirs in that environment. On discharge he joined Mt. Rose as minister of music. Then he became a member of Friendship Missionary Baptist church, where he used his incredible range of talents with the Master’s Choir, Missionettes, Mission Chorus, Special Edition, Pastor’s Choir, Brotherhood Chorus and the L. L. Tisdale Singers. Wiley died in March, 1993.