Leon Russell Throws Support Behind Proposed OKPOP Museum

Tuesday, January 29th 2013, 5:19 pm
By: Tess Maune

An Oklahoma rock legend is using his work to help a dream come to life in Green Country.

The Grammy-winning musician was in Tulsa to throw his support behind what would be called the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture.

The OKPOP museum is one bond issue vote away from becoming a reality, but has already acquired quite a collection to go on display.

He's an innovator in the recording studio, a musician so great that Sir Elton John recently pegged him as "The Master." Leon Russell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two years ago.

He got his start playing in Tulsa nightclubs when he was just 14. That was 56 years ago and Oklahoma was still a dry state.

"I'd get $10 and all I could drink and I'd drink all of it," Russell said.

That's just a taste of the history that will be preserved in The Oklahoma Museum of Pop Culture.

The idea behind the museum is to highlight the state as a crossroads of creativity, by using the art of Oklahoma artist's to draw in visitors.

"This museum does not work in Oklahoma City, it does not work in Joplin, it does not work in Muskogee. It works in the Brady District of Tulsa, so while we have this opportunity, while all the stars align, we've got to take advantage of this," said Bob Blackburn, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

More than 200 other artists have committed their collections to the museum. Longtime collector and fan, Steve Todoroff donated 41 years' worth of memorabilia documenting Russell's life and career, including documentation for every recording session the star participated in between 1960 and 1970.

"That's a big part of this museum; people can come in and they can see all the hits and misses that Leon played on over the years," Todoroff said.

And for the legend himself, knowing his work will be some of the first to be featured in the OKPOP museum is an honor he can joke about.

"I usually mainly get arrested in this area and now I've got a museum, who knew?" Russell said.

"I think it's a good thing, I think people will get a big kick out of it and might help some people. Glad to do whatever I can to help them."

The museum is slated to bring in millions of dollars each year, and it already has a home. The Bank of Oklahoma donated a prime piece of property at the corner of Archer and Boston.

But before plans move forward, the state house must agree to a $42.5 million bond issue, which would be matched with private funding.