Posthumously, it’s been a busy week for American jazz legend Charlie Christian, as the 2016 version of the international music festival named in his honor kicked off Thursday in OKC’s Deep Deuce.
Here at NonDoc HQ, we received official correspondence from the Oklahoma Hall of Fame noting that Christian was not selected for 2016 membership in the elite club, despite our nomination. That, in and of itself, is disappointing.
But then, local journalists spent Wednesday bickering over a Bricktown mural project by NonDoc (and Oklahoma Gazette) contributor Jack Fowler. The proposed mural of an octopus would grace the wide wall of the Bricktown Event Center and give color to an otherwise drab building.
And there — caught in the middle of a digital-media row between Community Cheerleaders from The Oklahoman and the Oklahoma Gazette — was poor, dead Charlie Christian again… still not in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, despite pioneering the electric guitar and reshaping
American world history as it relates to music.
NewsOK.com business writer Steve Lackmeyer wrote a column critiquing the panel of Bricktown bureaucrats who selected Fowler and approved his octopus. Lackmeyer introduced his own idea that the clinker canvas should be dedicated to recognizing Charlie Christian, and the headline riddled, “Is an opportunity being devoured by a Bricktown octopus?” (I don’t know, headline writer, is it?)
Gazette editor in chief Jennifer Chancellor took great umbrage on Facebook, answering with a vociferous “No, Steve” and demanding that artists deserve “SUPPORT.” She also suggested several other potential locations for a Charlie Christian mural, including the side of the American Banjo Museum. (That might be a fantastically ironic option, considering the last time I was there I saw a black couple recoil in offense at a looped video of Mickey Rooney playing a banjo in blackface.)
But while two of OKC’s leading journalists make faces at each other from either side of Jack Fowler, I remain most concerned that Oklahoma’s highest hall of fame still needs convincing that Charlie Christian ought to be a member. (We were invited to renominate him for 2017, of course, and we will.)
Charlie Christian should be in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame by William W. Savage Jr.
Just what do we have to do to convince the selection committee of Christian’s international importance? Perhaps persuading Lackmeyer, Chancellor and anyone else with publishing power to join our nominating effort would be a step in the right direction.
After all, the Bricktown Design Committee might approve a Charlie Christian mural if he were inducted into a hall of fame alongside Russell Westbrook, who is one of seven people entering the OHF on Nov. 17.
Perhaps if Charlie Christian could have dunked a basketball …
And perhaps if he’d been an impending free agent …
When I filled out the nomination form for Charlie Christian this spring, the OHF’s honoree relations and induction administrator recommended that I flesh out the various biographical categories further, including his “civic involvement,” “community service” and “philanthropies.”
I attempted to be polite but blunt when I noted to her that 20-something black men in the 1930s weren’t allowed membership in OKC Rotary clubs. They did, however, have their own water fountains, which sounds pretty sweet, I guess.
My sarcasm is in jest, though, and it’s intended to point out that the longer a worldwide music legend like Charlie Christian is kept out of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, the more people are going to question the gumption of OHF leadership. Do we really need more data about the philanthropy of a poor musician to recognize his cultural importance? Money, no matter what Donald Trump says, is not everything.
In the end, the 2016 OHF induction list includes two good people I know personally — lawyer Mike Burrage and Gen. Rita Aragon — so I don’t seek to disparage. Beyond them, Troy Aikman sells a hell of a Miller Lite, and I’m sure Dan Dillingham, Rebecca Dixon and Kelli O’Hara throw fine parties.
But if we want 2017 to be the year that the Oklahoma Hall of Fame finally recognizes one of our state’s most influential artistic figures, it’s clear that we’re going to need support from the Lackmeyers, the Chancellors and the Fowlers of the media world.
And then some.
So let’s spend a little ink to right this wrong, OK team? You can even extract it from an octopus’s tentacle for all I care.
Let’s just get it done.