The gift consists of artifacts, recordings, photographs, posters and documents related to Tulsa musician Ernie Fields Sr. The elder Fields began his career in music in the 1920s in Tulsa and quickly became a favorite on the “Chittlin’ Circuit,” a series of clubs and venues in the southern states marketed to African American audiences.
“My dad and Bob (Wills) would spend time together and they would get both of their bands together for late night jams after the paying gigs were over,” said Fields, Jr. in an interview with the OKPOP Museum staff.
Bob Wills had become famous broadcasting his dance shows from Cain’s Ballroom over the airwaves of KVOO. Wills opened the doors of Cain’s to Fields Sr.’s band to be one of the first African-American bands to perform there.
Fields Sr.’s bands played a mix of jazz, swing and blues. Despite segregation laws, they toured nationwide and recorded albums in New York and Los Angeles. He had a national hit in 1959 with his rocking arrangement of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.” The song charted for 16 weeks and reached number four on the Billboard Top 100. His band also performed on The Dick Clark Show.
“It’s important to me and my sister that the state of Oklahoma honors my father’s legacy at the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture,” Fields Jr. said. “The Ernie Fields Orchestra performed in all of the states, Canada, Mexico and Cuba. But, by choice, Oklahoma remained home because of his committed connection and devotion to his family.” Fields Sr.’s wife of 65 years, Bernice, became a business partner in his music promotion business.
Fields Sr. was born in Texas, but grew up in the historical all-black town of Taft, Okla. He graduated from Tuskegee Institute and began a professional music career, soloing on trombone and piano, arranging music and leading his band. Fields Sr. was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1989 and died May 11, 1997.
Ernie Fields Jr., followed his father into the music business and played saxophone with the band when he was young. After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, he served in the army and went to college before returning to Tulsa to begin his music career. Fields Jr. has been the music contractor for American Idol since 2008 and several other television shows where he is responsible for hiring musicians to perform in house bands and musical productions. He has also played with diverse artists such as Lyle Lovett, Blake Shelton and French pop legend Johnny Hallyday as well as legends of R&B and jazz including Bobby Blue Bland, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Derrick James and Marvin Gaye.
The OKPOP Museum continues to collect important stories from Oklahomans in popular culture.
About The Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture: The OKPOP Museum, being developed by the Oklahoma Historical Society, will be located in the Brady Arts District of Tulsa with the approval of a $42.5 million bond issue. The 75,000-square-foot, four story building will be dedicated to the creative spirit of Oklahoma’s people and the influence of Oklahoma artists on popular culture around the world. The museum will collect artifacts, archival materials, film and video and audio recordings that reflect Oklahoma’s influence nationally and internationally.