The morning after the deadly EF5 tornado ravaged Moore, local musician Johnny Blaul was working at his day job in Norman when a co-worker said, “Hey you play music, right? Maybe you could use that to do something for the people.”
Less than a week later, the frontman of Norman-based alternative trio Begin Again and his pal R. Travis Pierce released “Reaching Out: A Relief Album by Oklahoma Artists” via the online music stores iTunes and Bandcamp. The 22-track digital album features songs from Oklahoma indie rock, folk and pop-punk bands like Tiger Lily, Defining Times, Tallows, Deerpeople and Ripple Green. All proceeds are earmarked for the Red Cross' tornado relief efforts.
“We were trying to make it as big as possible just so we could have the greatest effect,” said Blaul, who works at the First Baptist Church Family Life Center in Norman.
“You know, we can't do something like the relief concert that was put on by all those huge stars. There's no way that we could have that kind of financial effect. Or we can't like give a million dollars like Kevin Durant. But I wanted to give something significant. I wanted to have us all to be able to help contribute something.”
Oklahoma's diverse musical community has rallied in the aftermath of May tornadoes that devastated Moore, Shawnee, El Reno and other communities. From homegrown country music superstars to local kindie rockers, several Sooner State performers have released digital music intended to raise money for the relief efforts.
After the May 20 Moore tornado, Oklahoma City-based Sugar Free Allstars, who specialize in funky jams for children, penned “(Look for the) Good People,” which is available on Bandcamp for a $1 or larger donation to the Red Cross. Singer/keyboardist Chris “Boom” Wiser said the lyrics were inspired by a quote from Fred Rogers, star of “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.”
“He said when he was a boy and would see scary things in the news, his mother would tell him to look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,” Wiser said in an email. “We feel like it's an important message for children in times of crisis.”
Aspiring songsmith Rebekah Willoughby, 15, of Chickasha, made national news with her anthem “Oklahoma Strong,” which she penned in 30 minutes the morning after the May 20 tornado. “Oklahoma Strong” is available for download on iTunes and Amazon.com. All proceeds raised will be donated to the United Way Disaster Relief Fund.
Alton Eugene, a self-described Oklahoma City believer/musician/songwriter/producer, composed the uplifting “Hope Song” after the Moore twister. He has pledged proceeds from iTunes and Amazon downloads of the song to the city of Moore's disaster fund.
Oklahoma City pop duo Laura Leighe dedicated its summery new song “Down in the Valley” to tornado victims, with 100 percent of iTunes sales going to Red Cross relief efforts.
Horse Thief, an Oklahoma City psychedelic folk rock band, repackaged its home state tribute “Warrior” on Bandcamp for the same cause.
“Our hearts are broken for the lives and homes lost in the recent tornadoes that destroyed so much of the land we love. We feel helpless since we were on tour during the storms, and have decided to put up our song ‘Warrior (Oklahoma)' for a minimum $1 donation to help raise funds and spread awareness,” frontman Cameron Neal said in a statement.
The 1990s hitmakers Color Me Badd, which reunited in 2010, rushed the launch of its new website to make the upbeat single “Skywalkin'” available for free download. In lieu of payment, the vocal group is asking fans to donate to the Red Cross.
According to colormebaddmusic.com, band member Bryan Abrams lives in Moore and the May 20 tornado's path came within a mile of his house, where he and his family hunkered down in a closet.
During his televised “Healing in the Heartland: Relief Benefit Concert” in Oklahoma City, Tishomingo country star Blake Shelton and his fellow “The Voice” coach Usher performed a special duet of Shelton's hit “Home.” “The Voice” host Carson Daly announced last week on the reality show that their heartfelt version of the ballad is available on iTunes, with proceeds going to continued tornado relief efforts. “Healing in the Heartland” raised more than $6.5 million for the United Way of Central Oklahoma May Tornadoes Relief Fund.
Blaul, an Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma graduate, and Pierce, an ACM@UCO junior, said they used every connection to the state music scene they could think of to recruit bands for “Reaching Out.”
“I'm extremely happy with how excited everyone was about the concept and how quickly they responded,” Pierce said.
While the bands didn't write songs specifically in response to the tornado, Blaul said he thought the provided tracks gave the album sonic diversity but meshed well together. “Reaching Out” is available on Bandcamp for $7 and iTunes for $9.99.
“The main goal was just to get this out while people still remember what happened, and they're still in the mindset where they would be open to giving to the cause,” Blaul said.
“I just wanted to be able to contribute something through music.”