The Geography of Music: Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Geography of Music: Tulsa, Oklahoma

By William Glanz

Bob Dylan will remain in Tulsa forever.

That’s because philanthropist George Kaiser teamed up with the University of Tulsa this year to purchase thousands of documents and objects belonging to Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez during the Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963. Photo by Rowland Scherman, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain 

The pieces of music history will be consolidated at the new Bob Dylan Archive in Tulsa’s Brady Arts District once it opens in 2019. Today the archives are housed at Tulsa’s Helmerich Center for American Research at the Gilcrease Museum.

The archives include hand-written lyrics, tapes from studio sessions, clothing – the leather jacket Dylan wore at the Newport Folk Festival when he plugged in – and even the wallet the singer carried in 1965. There are 6,000 objects in all.

First Woody, Then Bob

The idea for the Dylan archive hatched in 2014, when Kaiser Family Foundation Executive Director Ken Levit received a call that the archives were being put up for sale. The Kaiser Family Foundation funded an effort six years ago to purchase Woody Guthrie’s archives, and in 2013 the Woody Guthrie Center opened in Tulsa.

So acquiring the Dylan archives made sense to the foundation, and the George Kaiser Family Foundation paid an estimated $15 million to $20 million to acquire the archives and relocate the entire trove in Tulsa.

With the archives of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan in the same neighborhood, Oklahoma’s second-largest city is becoming a hub of music scholarship. The University of Tulsa announced last month it will open the Institute for Bob Dylan Studies, giving students the opportunity to study the artist’s life and work.

“From pop culture historians to social scientists, the academic world clearly is excited to study Bob Dylan, his work and his influence,” University of Tulsa President Gerard P. Clancy said. “An interdisciplinary institute devoted to the Nobel laureate and housed within a national university should bring increased prominence to The Bob Dylan Archive and the Tulsa community. It also will generate new findings and amplify the scope of Dylan’s legacy for generations.”

Guthrie and Dylan, who won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, may soon have company in Tulsa. The Washington Post reported last month that the George Kaiser Family Foundation also is negotiating a deal to purchase the archives of Johnny Cash and relocating those in Tulsa.