Oklahoma History Center Announces Debut Performance of the Historic Kilgen Organ
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma History Center will reintroduce the sound of the 80-year-old Kilgen theater organ to Oklahoma City with a dedication performance on Monday, April 24, 2017. This voice that has not been heard since 1998 will ring out again for a series of performances to be held on April 24, July 31 and October 23, 2017. Doors open at 6 p.m., performances will begin at 7 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 for the general public and $10 for members of the Oklahoma Historical Society and may be reserved by calling 405-522-0765.
Early silent movie theaters used the organs to generate background music and sound effects. The expression “all the bells and whistles” is said to have come from a theater organ salesman claiming his product had all the sound effects needed for any movie. Despite the introduction of motion pictures with sound, or “talkies,” in the late 1920s, theater organs enjoyed great popularity in the 1930s. The performance history of this Kilgen organ dates back to April 13, 1936, when it premiered to the radio audience of WKY, broadcasting from the Skirvin Tower in downtown Oklahoma City. Beginning just a week later, WKY presented Ken Wright on the Kilgen for one hour every night at 10:45. On Wright’s second night he played favorites of the time such as “Open My Blue Eyes,” “Across the Breakfast Table,” “Valse Bluette” and “Dinner at Eight.”
When WKY moved to their new location on East Britton Road, the Kilgen did not make the move to the new studio. Instead, the Kilgen was sold to the City of Oklahoma City and moved to the Municipal Auditorium (now the Civic Center Music Hall). For the next 47 years the organ remained in the Civic Center and was used for a variety of programs and concerts. Renovations to the Civic Center in the summer of 1998 did not include a place for the Kilgen organ, leaving the City of Oklahoma City to consider its fate. Dr. Bob Blackburn, then deputy executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, made a plea to keep the organ in Oklahoma. His intention was to make the Kilgen organ a featured part of the new Oklahoma History Center to open in November 2005. The city council agreed to donate the organ to the Oklahoma Historical Society. After more than two years of repair and restoration by the American Organ Institute at the University of Oklahoma, one of Oklahoma’s most interesting and complex musical instruments is now preserved for years to come.
The Oklahoma History Center is a division of the Oklahoma Historical Society and is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, National Archives and is an accredited member of the American Alliance of Museums. The mission of the Oklahoma Historical Society is to collect, preserve and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma. Founded in 1893 by members of the Territorial Press Association, the OHS maintains museums, historic sites and affiliates across the state. Through its research archives, exhibits, educational programs and publications the OHS chronicles the rich history of Oklahoma. For more information about the OHS, please visit www.okhistory.org.