Ernie Fields Jr., the music contractor for “American Idol,” “The Voice” and “The X Factor”; and his sister Carmen Fields, an acclaimed journalist in the Boston area, have donated items from their famous father Ernie Fields Sr. and some of their own work to the planned Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture.
The gift consists of artifacts, recordings, photographs, posters and documents related to Tulsa musician Ernie Fields Sr., according to a news release. The elder Fields began his career in music in the 1920s in Tulsa and quickly became a favorite on the “Chittlin' Circuit,” a series of clubs and venues in the Southern states marketed to African-American audiences.
“My dad and Bob (Wills) would spend time together and they would get both of their bands together for late-night jams after the paying gigs were over,” said Fields Jr. in an interview with the OKPOP Museum staff.
Bob Wills had become famous broadcasting his dance shows from Cain's Ballroom over the airwaves of KVOO. Wills opened the doors of Cain's to Ernie Fields Sr.'s band to be the first African-American band to perform there.
His bands played a mix of jazz, swing and blues. Despite segregation laws, the elder Fields and his cohorts toured nationwide and recorded albums in New York and Los Angeles. He had a national hit in 1959 with his rocking arrangement of Glenn Miller's “In the Mood.” The song charted for 16 weeks and reached No. 4 on the Billboard Top 100. His band also performed on the “Dick Clark Show.”
“It's important to me and my sister that the state of Oklahoma honors my father's legacy at the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture,” Fields Jr. said. “The Ernie Fields Orchestra performed in all of the states, Canada, Mexico and Cuba. But, by choice, Oklahoma remained home because of his committed connection and devotion to his family.” Fields Sr.'s wife of 65 years, Bernice, became a business partner in his music promotion business.
Ernie Fields Sr. was born in Texas, but grew up in the historically all-black town of Taft. He graduated from Tuskegee Institute and began a professional music career, soloing on trombone and piano, arranging music and leading his band. Fields Sr. was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1989 and died on May 11, 1997.
Ernie Fields Jr. followed his father into the music business and played saxophone with the band when he was young. After graduating from Tulsa Booker T. Washington High School, he served in the Army and went to college before returning to Tulsa to begin his music career. Fields Jr. has been the music contractor since 2008 for “American Idol” and several other television shows, where he is responsible for hiring musicians to perform in house bands and musical productions. He also has played with diverse artists such as Lyle Lovett, Blake Shelton and French pop legend Johnny Hallyday, as well as legends of R&B and jazz including Bobby “Blue” Bland, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Rick James and Marvin Gaye.
The planned OKPOP Museum continues to collect important stories from Oklahomans in popular culture.
“It is critical that we collect, preserve and share these objects and stories,” said Jeff Moore, project director for the OKPOP Museum, in the news release. “Oklahomans have made significant contributions to popular culture worldwide. If the OKPOP doesn't bring these collections to Oklahoma, they will be donated to or acquired by institutions in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville and Cleveland.”
Previous donations to the OKPOP related to Bob Wills and Leon Russell were announced in the past year.
“If the Oklahoma Historical Society wasn't developing the OKPOP Museum, the Bob Wills and the Leon Russell collections would not be coming back to Oklahoma,” Moore said.
The Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture, being developed by the Oklahoma Historical Society, will be located in the Brady Arts District of Tulsa with the approval of a $42.5 million bond issue. The 75,000-square-foot, four-story building will be dedicated to the creative spirit of Oklahoma's people and the influence of Oklahoma artists on popular culture around the world. The museum will collect artifacts, archival materials, film and video and audio recordings that reflect Oklahoma's influence nationally and internationally.