Once Upon a Time……….

1915 – Mrs. Clark J. Tisdell, president of Muskogee Musical Arts Society was appointed President of Oklahoma Federation of Music Clubs by National Federation of Music Clubs for the purpose of organizing the state federation. The attempt was unsuccessful as few clubs wanted to join so Mrs. Tisdell resigned. A few Oklahoma clubs have music-federation membership pre-dating the official OFMC organization date of April, 1917.

April, 1917 OFMC organized: The second attempt by the NFMC and the Muskogee Musical Arts Society to form a state federation was successful. At the Organization Convention held April 3-4, 1917 in Muskogee, Mrs. E.D. Bevitt, an accomplished organist, was elected as the first President. At that time sixteen music clubs met at Mrs. Bevitt’s call with twelve music clubs deciding to join as charter clubs: Musical Arts Society (Muskogee); Music Study Club (Muskogee); Hyechka (Tulsa); Piano Study Club (Tulsa); Music Study Club (Muskogee); Fortnightly Music Department (McAlester); Symphony Music Club (Sapulpa); Wednesday Morning Music Club (Okmulgee); Musical Coterie (Stigler); Music Club (Tahlequah); Harmony Music Club (Claremore); and Wednesday Music Club (Nowata).

By spring, 1918, four more music clubs joined OFMC: Musical Research Society (Bartlesville); Philharmonic (Ardmore); Madrigal (Enid); and Fiducia (Sapulpa).

[Note: Of those 16 music clubs, only the Wednesday Morning Music Club of Okmulgee and the Musical Research Society of Bartlesville are still active in OFMC. At the 2019 State Convention, Okmulgee’s Dana Mims was elected OFMC Vice President and Bartlesville’s Melanie Bayles was elected OFMC Treasurer.]

Second State Convention: Okmulgee, March 28-29, 1918. Due to World War I, Spanish Flu epidemic, post-war depression—no conventions in 1919 and 1920. For two years OFMC was inactive, but organization status maintained, and (some) clubs paid music-federation dues to State and/or National. President Bevitt resigned August 1917 due to the family moving to Jamestown, New York and Mrs. Elmo Wilkins, First Vice President, automatically succeeded her. President Mrs. Wilkins withdrew from Federation due to illness in her home. OFMC had 16 clubs.

1920–1921: At some point in 1920, OFMC began its sponsorship of the Mid-Winter Music Festival. An OFMC State Board meeting was held in Tulsa. A Call was issued in December, 1920 for State Convention in Oklahoma City in January, 1921. Life was returning to normal after the Spanish Flu.

1941: OFMC grew to 212 clubs being affiliated with the federation, giving OFMC over 4,737 members.

1951: OFMC President Leta Mae Smith of Lawton, took the big step of having OFMC agree with the recommendation of long-time OFMC Opera Chair, Dr. Henry Hobart, and officially adopting and putting into effect sponsoring the youth opera workshop known as Inspiration Point Fine Arts Colony, Eureka Springs, AR. President Smith invited the state federations of Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri to become cosponsors of the project. Other states followed to become co-sponsors. The official name is now Opera In the Ozarks OIO.

1959: On Sunday, April 20, 1959, choirs and their directors came from 10 or a dozen Oklahoma cities to join in the 11th annual Choir Festival sponsored by OFMC at the Grand Avenue Methodist Church. Back in 1959, OFMC territory was divided into five (5) Districts, each having a district president. {Note: OFMC is now divided into two districts, East and West, with I-35 being the dividing line.]

1965: On September 19, 1965, OFMC took the added legal step adding “Inc.” to the end of its name, being incorporated as an Oklahoma corporation.

1966: In early April, 600 delegates from 40 music clubs from over the state were expected to start arriving on a Wednesday for the 47th State Convention in Lawton.

Past Presidents: 1944-Mrs. Willie Emerson Murray, Oklahoma City; 1956-Mrs. Frederic Libke, Oklahoma City; 1959-Mrs. J. Knox Byrum, Shawnee; 1960-Mrs. David C, Johnston; 1964-Mrs. Randolph Riley, Chickasha; 1973-Mrs. Nolan D. Basore, Okmulgee.

Many OFMC meetings and events were held at the famous Hotel Biltmore in Oklahoma City, the center of the state. A history of OFMC must include a history of this meeting place.

Hotel Biltmore, Oklahoma City:

Built during the Great Depression by prominent business leaders headed by Charles F. Colcord, it was completed in 1932. The Biltmore was 33 stories high and heralded as the state’s tallest building. Without a doubt, it was one of the finest hotels in the post-oil boom days of Oklahoma City. There were 619 rooms, each offering free radio, circulating ice water, ceiling fans with up-and-down draft, and later air conditioning. In 1936 the Biltmore was headquarters for 104 conventions, served 284,604 meals and had 114,171 guests! Located at the southeast corner of Grand and Harvey, it closed in June 1973 as it was plagued by financial woes throughout much of its life. Many cried openly, when its massive structure was dynamited on October 16, 1977. The hotel demolition was one of the largest demolitions in the country to date when it was blown up in 1977 to make way for the “Myriad Gardens” See its picture below.

PHOTO OF BILTMORE HOTEL (Courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society)

Through the years, OFMC has pushed for more choral music in the schools, music projects and money-for-music projects, more music and better music in every Oklahoma city, hamlet, home, school, church and concert hall. OFMC is known for giving the annual Musician of the Year award to an Oklahoma musician who has contributed the most to the field of music.

Now, let’s have some fun and look at photos taken through the years and published in the Daily Oklahoman or Oklahoma Times.

Photos – Courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society

As one looks back at the early days of the OFMC, it becomes obvious that it was a different time. Women did not work. Meetings and events happened during the week. Women wore lovely dresses, earrings, pearls, hats and gloves. Women had no first names, just Mrs. followed by their husband’s names. Music clubs served as both social hub and entertainment venues. Nearly every home had a piano and almost every child took piano lessons. Now, children have multiple options for after school activities. The days of TV musical shows hosted by Doris Day, Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, John Davidson, and others were all too soon gone as being too expensive to produce.

The truth is life changed. But Music is still alive. Music Clubs still function and cater to working women and working men. Junior Festival is still alive in Oklahoma. History tells us that in every generation there is a place for music and the arts. We are thankful for the early pioneers that brought the necessity of music to our communities.

[Historical Information: Courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma Federation of Music Clubs Collection 1907-1981; Photos “Courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society”; Additional history by Mrs. Frederic Libke, past OFMC President. OFMC member Leon Whitesell, remembers her husband Frederic as being a prominent pianist and teacher who founded both the Oklahoma Baptist University and the Oklahoma City University Schools of Music, and also remembers Mrs. Libke being active in the OKC Ladies Music Club. Additional History by Mrs. O.R. Hisel in September 1955 verifying the April, 1917 organization date. Mrs. Hisel was the historian of the Muskogee Musical Arts Society and historian for the Northeast District of the Oklahoma Federation of Music Clubs.]