Big Jim

From Jim Halsey’s collection are guitars signed by Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney.

You may never have heard of Jim Halsey, but surely you’ve heard of the acts he’s discovered, managed or guided the careers of: Wanda Jackson, Roy Clark, Hank Thompson and The Oak Ridge Boys, to name just a few. Chances are, without Halsey, many of country music’s biggest stars would not be the household names they are today.

His contributions to not only Oklahoma’s place in the country music scene, but to the popular music scene in general, are paid tribute by the Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum’ exhaustive new exhibition, Starmaker: Jim Halsey and the Legends of Country Music.

On display through April 5, it chronicles Halsey’s 60-plus years as one of the Sooner State’s brightest music-biz impresarios.

Shelley Rowan, director of marketing at the museum, believes that Halsey, now 82, was deserving of his own exhibit because people need to know just how much he has “shaped modern country music and made Oklahoma a continuing source for talent.”

At its peak, his talent agency was the world’s largest in the country genre.

“Due to the nature of his work, because it was all behind-the-scenes, he did a lot of things for country music and its stars, but you don’t see that part of it when you see the stars,” Rowan said. “We thought it would be cool to show what this man, who based his talent agency out of Oklahoma; what he did; and all the risks he took in his long career.”

One such risk was taken in 1976, when Halsey toured Clark and The Oak Ridge Boys through Iron Curtain-era Russia. Doing so garnered him much praise in the area of diplomatic relations from both countries, all the while living up to his own personal credo of “taking country music to locations and venues where it had never been presented before.”

The Starmaker exhibit
features numerous awards, gold and platinum albums presented to
Halsey’s artists, photographs, posters and even stage clothing. However,
perhaps the biggest draw is the display of guitars from Halsey’s
collection, signed by artists as diverse as B.B. King, Bruce
Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Jimmy Buffett.

“I
really like seeing the guitars,” Rowan said. “It’s cool to see them all
signed and know all the different areas of the music business that
Halsey kind of helped. Just to see how big his influence actually was …
it’s really cool to see.”

Even
cooler, she said, is being able to see and expose the “Oklahoma
connection” to popular music of which many people might not even be
aware.

“I think this
is something special for Oklahoma to have, because I feel like a lot of
times when they talk about country music, you think of Nashville,” Rowan
said. “But if you look at the Country Music Hall of Fame, a majority of
those artists are from Oklahoma. We make great music in our state, and I
think it’s cool to show that, and to remind people that our state has
great artists that come from it, and really great people who manage
them.”

Hey! Read This:
Wanda Jackson’s Unfinished Business album review   

Louis Fowler

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