Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
In 1935 the state song of Oklahoma was “Oklahoma—A Toast,” written by Kingfisher native Harriet Parker Camden. The song was very reverent and the lyrics described iconic images of Oklahoma including sunflowers and fields of cotton. George Nigh, the youngest legislator elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives at the age of twenty-three, thought the song was too old-fashioned. Nigh remembered the first time he heard the song “Oklahoma!” at home in McAlester, and thought it would be more cheerful and celebratory of the state.
In 1953 Nigh introduced a bill to officially change the state song to “Oklahoma!,” which he believed captured the spirit of the state better than the somber “Oklahoma—A Toast.” He had one major opponent to the bill, a man he called Old Man Huff, who did not believe the state song should be written by a non-Oklahoman. Old Man Huff sang “Oklahoma–A Toast” on the legislature floor and was overcome with emotion.
Representative Nigh had to act fast if he wanted his bill to pass. He tabled the measure for one legislative day and called the representative from the town of Chickasha, where the Oklahoma College for Women (now the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma) chorus had just finished a production of the musical. Nigh also called Ridge Bond, the only Oklahoman to perform the character Curly on Broadway. Bond still had costumes from the musical and was asked to visit the legislature to perform some songs from the show–with no chance to rehearse! The next day George Nigh gave the floor to the women’s choir, who began singing a couple of songs from the musical. Suddenly, Ridge Bond burst through the door singing “Oklahoma!,” and everyone stood to cheer. After the performance was finished, George Nigh’s bill passed and the state song was officially changed to “Oklahoma!”
Ridge Bond with the Oklahoma College for Women chorus (courtesy of Ridge Bond Archives). 5