New OKC jazz museum opens with benefit concert

By Nuria Martinez-Keel

The Oklahoman


Oklahoma City's newest jazz museum is opening with a bang and a beat.


Percussionist Art T. Burton will perform as a featured artist for the National African American Jazz Legacy Museum benefit concert.


The concert will celebrate the museum's opening and Oklahoma City jazz legend Jimmy Rushing from 2-10 p.m. at the Refreshing Event Center, 5716 S Harvey Court. Admission costs $20.


The Oklahoma Black Museum and Performing Arts Center will house the new museum at 4701 N Lincoln Boulevard.


Other performers include the Mid-Del City Jazz Group, a New Orleans jazz band, the Spiritually Bold drama group and museum co-founder Dr. Ron V. Myers. Local jazz musicians are also invited in an open call to play in a jam session.


Visitors at the event can view the Women of Northeast Oklahoma City Photovoice exhibit before the photo display moves to the National African American Jazz Legacy Museum for the next two to three months.


Museum founder Rosetta Funches said proceeds from the concert will go toward travel and research expenses, as historians plan to visit different cities and research black jazz artists from each of the 50 states.


"Every state has somebody famous that they produced," Funches said. "There are a lot of artists that existed that were never discovered."


The museum will digitally document these musicians in a disc system, hold exhibitions and provide community programs, such as a jazz symposium, she said. The purpose is to preserve the history of the genre as it developed in the black community.


“We want the information to go out that jazz started with the experience of slavery,” Funches said. “We want to etch in stone where it originated.”


The foundations of jazz began around the time of the Civil War when former slaves used music to express their struggle in slavery and to celebrate their freedom, said Myers, a Mississippi musician and founder of the National Association of Juneteenth Jazz Presenters.


Jazz music developed throughout segregation in African-American venues across the United States, a connection of theaters that made up the Chitlin' Circuit. Myers said Oklahoma City held its own place in the circuit, which included famed music halls such as the Apollo Theater in New York City and the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia.


As jazz became more popular, its African-American roots became obscured, Myers said.


Today, the National African American Jazz Legacy Museum and other organizations aim to honor the integral role black people have had in developing the genre.


“Jazz is African-American classical music,” Myers said. “We are dedicated to preserving that legacy and that it started with the people who arrived in the belly of slave ships who created a unique improvisational art form that has changed the world.”


Originally, Funches and others working to establish the museum intended to found it in New Orleans, she said. After negotiations with city planners fell through, she suggested opening the museum in Oklahoma City, where Funches is the founder and director of the Oklahoma Black Museum and Performing Arts Center.


The National Association of Juneteenth Jazz Presenters has already conducted research into significant jazz artists from various states while also encouraging communities to hold concerts celebrating their hometown jazz musicians, Myers said.


Sunday's benefit concert will kick off the new museum's efforts to continue these initiatives with a celebration of Rushing, an accomplished jazz singer born and raised in Oklahoma City.


“When we celebrate Jimmy Rushing, we remind people where the music came from, what was the challenge, why it was created and the community that created an art form,” Myers said. “You should not grow up in Oklahoma City and play instruments and not know who Jimmy Rushing is.”