Famous Oklahomans

By: Chris Putman | Category: Special Interest | Issue: August 2020

Oklahoma is a state famous for some unusual reasons.  It has more tornadoes than any other state.  Who doesn’t know that one?  It has a song that bares its name.  It also has a boo coo load of famous people that come from within its borders such as singers, actors, athletes, astronauts, directors, politicians, entrepreneurs, criminals, and even evangelists.

SINGERS

Top on the list has got to be Garth Brooks.  Born in Tulsa, Brooks attended Oklahoma State University on an athletic scholarship to earn an advertising degree.  While there, he performed in Oklahoma bars and clubs. Through a few discouraging false starts, Brooks got his breakthrough, and his career and popularity exploded.  He is known not only for his most popular songs like “Friends in Low Places,” and “The Dance,” but for his concert performance.  He wore a wireless mic that allowed him the freedom to run the stage, climb and swing wildly from props and speaker stacks.  Using a recipe of rock, pop, and country, Brooks concocted his unique sound.  It’s that signature sound that has earned him the title of one of the best-selling artists at a tune to 170 million records worldwide.   He has received two Grammy Awards and 17 American Music Awards, to name a few.

Brooks fan Susie Belcher attended a concert in a small concert hall when the star started to take off in the late 80s. She had to decide if it was worth the money and time standing in line for this relatively unknown artist just starting to grow in popularity.  Needless to say, in hindsight, Belcher thinks it was definitely worth the investment in time and effort as it gave her bragging rights and a story to tell.

“That boy sang his heart out, and I don’t believe he ever stood still,” Belcher said.  “He was climbing the speaker stacks on each end of the stage so he could sing to the people in the higher seats.  Then he would run across the stage and go up the other stack.  It was an amazing feat, and he kept singing the whole time.  The thing that impressed me the most was about halfway through the show; he sent his band out to take a break.  He grabbed an acoustic guitar, sat down at the front of the stage with his legs hanging off and started doing cover songs of other artists.  He said this was his favorite part of the show.”

Other Oklahoma singers include Norman-born Vince Gill, Ada-born Blake Shelton, Checotah-native Carrie Underwood, Tulsa-born Ryan Tedder, McAlester-born Reba McEntire, Okemah-born Woody Guthrie, and Claremore-born Patti Page.

MUSICAL RISING STARS

True to his blue-collar roots, James Robert Webb walks the line between traditional and contemporary country music. Raised on a small farm outside of Tulsa, he grew up listening to a wide variety of Oklahomans including Bob Wills, Garth Brooks and Leon Russell. His sound is driven by his unique, indefinable voice and organic, neo-traditionalist style fused with modern production. His 2016 debut, Pictures, yielded two top-40 singles on the Music Row Country Breakout chart – “Makin’ Love Tonight” and “How That Feels.” Both broke the top 60 on the Billboard Indicator charts. In 2019, one of country music’s most award-winning and renowned producer’s Buddy Cannon (Kenny Chesney, Willie Nelson), took notice of Webb’s unique style. The pair recently finished recording a full-length project coming soon. “April May,” penned by Webb himself, is the latest release climbing the charts and is on the highly anticipated upcoming project.

On June 22, 2020, he debuted in the Top 40 on the Billboard Country Indicator Chart with his fastest growing single “Think About It” off his recently released self-titled album produced by the iconic Buddy Cannon. This single has also charted Top 25 on the Music Row Country Breakout Chart, the third consecutive single off the current album to do so, and is No. 1 on the CDX True Indie Chart. It surpassed 200,000 streams on Spotify making it his top performing single, ever. 

When he’s not composing, singing, recording and producing music for himself and other artists – he is a busy Tulsa back doctor who treats vertebral fractures, provides prevention and treatment for Osteoporosis, back, neck and extremity pain; and related problems.    

His music has continued to attract new opportunities for the “easygoing giant.” He recently played Calf Fry 2019, was chosen to headline the Southfork Music Festival in Parker, Texas and continues to play across the country connecting directly with the fans. For more on James Robert Webb, go toJamesRobertWebb.com.

A Tulsa native, Preslea Elliott has begun her debut as a singer/songwriter with her recent single release “Subconscious.” After graduating from Cascia Hall in 2015, she found her way down south to Auburn University where she developed a love for music and performing. Majoring in Media Studies, she spent extensive time working on film projects mostly in front of the camera. Growing up, acting was a dream of hers and she aspired to eventually move to Los Angeles. That dream lives on as her transition into music has been one of anticipation. She had been writing songs for years but had never had the courage to share them until one of her last courses in college assigned the class to write and produce a song. From there, she began to develop as an artist and began to gain attention from the local community. A few months later, she was playing shows in the Auburn/Opelika music scene and was asked to open for Jordy Searcy, a Nashville singer/songwriter featured on the Voice. Playing in front of nearly 500 people with no music yet released, Preslea knew something special was transpiring. Gaining confidence and momentum, she found herself in the studio working with producer PSILO honing in meticulously on the craft of songwriting to build a sonic foundation. And she believes it is strong one with her first release underway and new music coming
very soon.

ACTORS

Coming from Shawnee, Brad Pitt is the adorable actor known for his dimples and boyish looks in his breakthrough movies, “Thelma & Louise,” “A River Runs Through It,” and “Legends of the Fall.”  With a few high school plays under his belt, he majored in Journalism/Advertising from the University of Missouri. Nearing completion of the degree, Pitt then bolted for Hollywood where he could study his first love, acting.  Pitt paid his acting dues in a number of lesser-known parts before finding his break.  As both he and his skill matured, he was known for movies such as “Seven,” “Meet Joe Black,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” and “Fury.”  Pitt is known as an activist as much as an actor.  He uses his influence to move forward his humanitarian and political causes.

Tulsa native Josh McKnight is an award-winning writer and has done bit parts in some pretty famous movies such as “Ford v Ferrari” rubbing shoulders with actors Christian Bale and Matt Damon.  After graduating from Oral Roberts University with a Cinema/Television/Digital Media degree, he headed straight toward his dream and landed a support job at Warner Brothers Entertainment.  He is diligent to walk through every open door he can.  His ultimate goal is to be a novel writer and then turn that story into a movie.  He’s on the fast track with not one, but two, honorable mentions for short stories in the biggest sci-fi and fantasy writing contest in the world titled Writers of the Future.  It’s those occasional pats on the back that keep McKnight moving forward toward his dream.

“The keyword being ‘rejection,’” McKnight said. “Gotta be prepared to get shot down a lot. But, I do my best to celebrate every victory, whether that is a second appearance on TV as background or an honorable mention.”

Many other actors come from Oklahoma.  A few include Norman-born James Garner, Tulsa-native Gary Busey, Lawton-native Joan Crawford, Broken Arrow-born Kristin Chenoweth, Ryan-born Chuck Norris, Tulsa-born Jennifer Jones, and Oklahoma territory-born Iron Eyes Cody.

DIRECTORS

Known for his roles as young Opie Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show” and teenager Richie Cunningham in “Happy Days,” Duncan-born Ron Howard started in acting in television and movies “American Graffiti” and “The Shootest.”  He later progressed to directing movies.  It turns out, the boy has a knack for the artform.  He is best known for his work in “Apollo 13,” “Cinderella Man,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Backdraft,” “The Da Vinci Code” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”  He has a number of Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations and wins.     

ATHLETES

Who has never heard of Mickey Mantle?  This major league baseball player, born in Spavinaw, started his athletic career by playing with semi-professional Baxter Springs Whiz Kids.  A Yankee scout came to watch Mantle’s teammate play when Mantle hit three home runs.  From that contact, he signed a minor league contract after graduation.  He played a full career for the New York Yankees and was a 20-time All-Star, seven-time World Series Champion, American League Most Valuable Player three times, and a Gold Glove winner, among other awards and then inducted to the National Baseball Hall of fame.

Other Oklahoma athletes include Henryetta-native and 1988 Heisman Trophy finalist Troy Aikman, Norman-native, and Oklahoma University football coach that won three national championships and Super Bowl XXX Barry Switzer and Norman-native and 1978 Heisman Trophy Billy Sims to name a few.

MORE FAMOUS FAVES

There are a few other famous Oklahomans so different in their own right; they don’t exactly fit in a particular category.  There is “Queen of the Outlaws” criminal Belle Starr who was killed in an ambush in her unsolved murder in Eufaula, Muldrow-born 1996 Miss America Shawntel Smith, Kingfisher-born Walmart founder Sam Walton, Tulsa-born radio personality Paul Harvey, Ada-born Charismatic Christian Televangelist Oral Roberts and Lawton-born “SpongeBob SquarePants” animated TV series creator Stephen Hillenburg.

While other states boast of their impressive list of famous people, no doubt, the Sooner state can hold its own.


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