With the help of a $200,000 donation from the Grammy Foundation, the Oklahoma Historical Society is preserving an estimated 600 hours of Western swing that the famed musician recorded in the 1940s. The project evolved after the Wills family donated his entire archives to the OHS after being housed in Turkey, Texas, for more than 40 years.
“How wonderful it is for the collection to end up in Oklahoma,” said Wills’ daughter, Carolyn Wills. “I have come to realize over the years just how important Oklahoma was to my father.”
OHS officials said their long-term hope is to house the collection in the OKPOP Museum, a pop culture-oriented venue planned for Tulsa’s historic Brady Arts District.
That would be a fitting home for the archives, the centerpiece of which includes 150 glass disc recordings. Wills, who is buried in Tulsa, first came to prominence as the indisputed “King of Western Swing” in the 1930s when he and His Texas Playboys broadcast a daily radio show from Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom. Their biggest hits included “Take Me Back to Tulsa,” “Faded Love,” “New San Antonio Rose” and “Sitting on Top of the World.”
Wills, who died in 1975 after a lengthy illness, was inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.