September 15, 2021
Jelani Eddington to Reopen Oklahoma History Center Kilgen Organ Performance Series with “We’re Back: He’s Back”
OKLAHOMA CITY — After suspending Kilgen theater organ performances in 2020, the Oklahoma History Center (OHC) is now proud to welcome returning artist Jelani Eddington to reopen the Kilgen performance schedule. He will perform on Monday, October 25, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Devon Great Hall of the OHC with a theme of “We’re Back: He’s Back.” Tickets are $10 for Oklahoma Historical Society members and $20 for the general public, and are available by calling 405-522-0765. The Oklahoma History Center is located at 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive in Oklahoma City and is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Eddington has been featured at numerous national and regional conventions of the American Theatre Organ Society and has toured extensively. He also has produced and marketed more than 30 theatre organ albums on some of the best-known and most dynamic instruments in the country. His 2014 performance of the “Main Title” from the Star Wars Symphonic Suite by John Williams has received more than 2.8 million views on YouTube.
The Kilgen theatre organ at the OHC was manufactured by the George Kilgen and Sons Company of Saint Louis in 1935. It was installed in the new studios of WKY radio—then located in the Skirvin Tower building—just before the station went on the air in April of 1936. Beginning just a week later, WKY presented Ken Wright on the Kilgen for one hour every night at 10:45. With the introduction of television in the late 1940s, interest in live music on the radio faded and it became more and more difficult to support an expensive studio instrument like the Kilgen. So, in March of 1951, when WKY moved its studios to a new building on the outskirts of town, the Kilgen did not make the move. WKY sold the organ to the City of Oklahoma City and it was installed in the Municipal Auditorium in downtown Oklahoma City. It was used for a variety of programs and concerts. In 1998 the Municipal Auditorium (now called the Civic Center Music Hall) was to be remodeled a second time and the “new” venue did not include the Kilgen.
Dr. Bob Blackburn, then executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, requested that the City of Oklahoma City donate the organ to the organization. During this same time President David L. Boren of the University of Oklahoma initiated plans for an organ institute at the University. His vision included an organ shop where students would learn to maintain organs as well as play them. In 2015 everything came together to complete the work on the Kilgen. Additional money was raised from local businesses and foundations. In April of 2015 an agreement was reached and, rather than trying to patch up what was in place, the entire organ was trucked to Norman to begin an extensive rebuilding. The first public performance of the Kilgen was in January of 2017.
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 Association of Museums. The mission of the Oklahoma Historical Society is to collect, preserve and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma and its people. 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.