Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and Trace Adkins can thank Jim Halsey for their side jobs.
These days, it's practically commonplace to see country music superstars regularly appearing on national TV shows like “The Voice,” “American Idol” and “The Celebrity Apprentice.” When the premier artist manager, agent and impresario known as the “Starmaker” started his career in 1949, however, “people even in the summertime, if they were listening to country music they had the window rolled up.”
“But we tried to popularize country music to the world. And in order to do that, you had to take it around the world. And we did that,” Halsey said in a phone interview from his longtime home base of Tulsa.
“To me, there's nothing impossible. In the beginning in country music, everybody said, ‘Oh, they won't buy country music' or ‘they don't play country music' or ‘the television networks don't use country music.' And I made up my mind I was gonna overcome that barrier. I was more challenged by somebody telling me that it can't be done than I was just looking at something that was maybe normal and still successful and all that.”
Halsey's successful six-decade career is showcased in the exhibit “Starmaker: Jim Halsey and the Legends of Country Music,” on view through May 18 at the Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum. The exhibit originated in 2010 at the Oklahoma History Center.
In honor of its sixth anniversary, the museum is offering free admission Saturday, said Shelley Rowan, marketing director of the Oklahoma Heritage Association. That makes it an ideal time to view the Halsey exhibit.
“Here at the museum, we always support pride and Oklahoma, and he stayed and made it his home base,” Rowan said.
A native of Independence, Kan., Halsey, 82, said Tulsa was the big city he traveled to growing up.
“I remember my uncle who lived here in Tulsa taking me to see Bob Wills' live broadcast on KVOO,” he said. ‘So I became interested in music and ... by the time I was 18, I wanted to be a promoter.”
He started out promoting dates for Western swing musician Leon McAuliffe, but his big break came in 1951, when country star Hank Thompson asked Halsey to handle his business affairs. The future “Starmaker” formed Jim Halsey Co. Talent Agency in 1951 in Oklahoma with Thompson as his first client.