OKPOP Museum Plans to Save Bob Wills' Legacy

Apr 10, 2013

Like many states, Oklahoma has provided the world of popular culture with lots of talent. From Bob Wills to Garth Brooks, Kristin Chenoweth to Leon Russell, and Will Rogers to Ron Howard.

But when it comes to the cultural legacy of those in this list and others, they currently have no home.

The proposed OKPOP museum, planned for construction near downtown Tulsa, would connect popular culture with Oklahoma roots to the state’s broader history and place in the world.

To highlight the need of the facility, supporters are remembering a man this Wednesday evening who wasn’t born in Oklahoma, but is buried here, Bob Wills.

“It happened for him that Oklahoma was the state that embraced him, Carolyn Wills, the daughter of Bob Wills, said. “It was actually Tulsa that ended up being home. I guess one thing that emphasizes this is that it was actually the place that he wanted to be laid to rest.”

Carolyn Wills started a foundation with her family to help preserve her father’s work as the “King of Western Swing.” She said the construction of the OKPOP museum is the “ultimate” for showcasing the lifetime of creativity from the Texas Playboys and Bob Wills.

Carolyn Wills is one of several people, including her father’s biographer, Dr. Charles Townsend, featured at the Oklahoma History Center for the “Bob Wills at the OKPOP” event. The Red Dirt Rangers band and master fiddler Byron Berline will contribute music for the evening.

Oklahoma Historical Society Director Dr. Bob Blackburn says Bob Wills is just one of the many popular culture icons whose work needs preservation and made available to the world.

“So we’ve got this collection, we’ve got the story, we’ve got the people around the country that are willing to donate. We just need a building,” Blackburn said.

“I don’t need any new money from the Legislature; all I need is the authorization to build the building,” he said. “We have the money in our base, we have the money out of the Tulsa community.”

The Wills family, along with Garth Brooks, Leon Russell and others have already committed their support, artifacts and archives to the OKPOP museum, according to Blackburn.

Those contributions will be added to an already large collection of popular culture items, including a white trunk that Bob Wills used when touring while living on the BBB Ranch in California, one of his daughter’s favorite artifacts.

“The reason I guess that’s at the forefront right now is the ranch, apparently, is still standing in Fresno, Calif.,” Carolyn Wills said. “It was the place where I actually was born, they didn’t make it to the hospital, so, it has a lot of personal meaning for me.”