“Our Opry” Exhibit Coming to EHS Museum

Country and Western. Rockabilly. Folk. The Grand Ole Opry has done it all over the past 80 years as the world’s longest-running radio broadcast, and some of its heartland legacy is coming back to Oklahoma this July at the Edmond Historical Society Museum. Local musicians and self-proclaimed amateur historians Craig and Chris Davis have paired their collection of tribute memorabilia with Missouri-based touring company Exhibits USA to present a display never before viewed publicly.

Historical Society exhibit director and Edmond native Iris Muno Jordan has chronologically showcased vintage collectibles with explanatory details to form a tour that fans won’t want to miss. Over 200 objects including Little Jimmy Dickens’ cowboy boots, Roy Acuff’s suspenders, and a necklace once belonging to Loretta Lynn will be presented as part of the Davis Brothers’ assortment entitled Our Opry: Personal Treasures from the Golden Age of the Grand Ole Opry. Authentic posters, stage costumes, photographs, song folios, letters, and assorted personal items linked to celebrities combined with biographical notes on their former owners.

“I’m probably one of the few young guys who has a bright pink Skeeter Davis dress in his closet,” laughed Craig Davis. Nationwide flea markets, neighborhood garage sales, and internet auctions have garnered unique finds, but most signed pieces were the result of meeting the stars themselves.

The brothers came early to Opry-style music. They started singing at Mount Zion Baptist Church near Commerce, and visited Nashville as children. Craig was nonplussed by the genre until a particular Saturday night at age 14 when the Grand Ole Opry came through loud and clear on an otherwise scratchy bedside radio via WSM 650 AM.

“Something about the music reached out and grabbed me,” he recalled. “I would sit in the dark with the signal flickering in and out to listen to Hank Snow, Bill Monroe and Minnie Pearl. I laid awake to memorize their songs and imagine their rhinestone suits, and I felt like I had a seat in the front row. While all my friends were listening to Prince and Bon Jovi, I was listening to Roy Acuff. I was definitely country when country wasn’t cool.”

Craig and Chris traded lawn-mowing money for annual road trips to Tennessee complete with Opry tickets, where they coveted souvenirs and became more familiar with the radio personas whose voices they already knew so well. A 1995 autograph party at which the brothers purchased a set of vinyl records initiated the official start of the collection to which they have recently added more valuable artifacts. Genuine friendships did evolve from their repeated pilgrimages, as later expressed through correspondence, song dedications, back-stage tours, and more donated keepsakes.

Song writing and performing seemed a logical step after years of poring over lyrics and harmonies. They have produced and recorded three albums in the past five years under the aptly titled label “The Davis Brothers.” Though juggling work and family schedules, the duo steals away to rehearse honky-tonk piano, mandolin, and harmonica with original lyrics for a homemade feel that Opry legend George Hamilton IV termed “folkabilly.” A fusion of Bob Dylan’s folk music with the rockabilly stylings of Johnny Cash and an Oklahoma country twang, the brothers seek to honor childhood inspirations while staying true to their own new sound. They performed as the opening act for Charlie Lovin after arranging his visit to Edmond’s Downtown Community Center in 2001, and have continued to hobnob with idols at such famed locations as Ernest Tubb’s Midnite Jamboree and the Nashville-based Red Rose Café.

Named artists in residence at the Historical Society, the Davis brothers initiated the first exhibit of the summer, Oklahoma Country: A Heritage of Boot Scootin’ Music, with a June concert that paid homage to local icons like Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire. The first in a series of programmed events, that country theme continues throughout the fall with live performances, film screenings, and guest lectures on the history of Opry music.

“This exhibit is a rich look into the history of the Grand Ole Opry and the people involved during its heyday of the 1940s-1960s. Visitors will enjoy reminiscing about early legends as well as looking towards new and upcoming stars,” says Jordan.

She contends that the Historical Society’s newest attraction appeals to various generations with its biographical highlights on more contemporary figures nearing pop star status like Oklahoma’s own Maci Wainwright and Carrie Underwood. The Davis brothers agree the exhibit lends perspective to young people who may not be familiar with those who preceded today’s chart toppers.

“If it wasn’t for these folks, country music wouldn’t be what it is today,” said Craig, who sees the exhibit as a way to appreciate those origins, a premise reaffirmed in the brothers’ 2005 album “Roots”.

Funding for the Historical Society is made possible by foundation grants, city backing, and private donations, most of which come from the Edmond community. Jordan credits benefactor Eloise Rodkey Rees as the exhibit’s main sponsor, but recognizes the generosity of the Davis brothers not only in lending the items, but also donating their time and expertise.

The memorabilia exhibit is on display July 17 – August 26 at 431 S. Boulevard from 10 am to 4pm Monday-Friday and 1pm to 4pm on Saturdays. Admission is free. The exhibit sponsor is Reid Printing.

For more information, call 340-0078 or http://www.edmondhistory.org. The Davis brothers also welcome correspondence through http://www.thedavisbrothers.com.

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