All-Female Cast Inducted Into OK Music HOF
By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
THREE GREATS: Wanda Jackson is flanked by 2018 inductee Susie McEntire, left, and Jana Jae during the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame ceremony in Oklahoma City Nov. 27.
TERRELL LESTER for GTR Newspapers
A child star from an innocent era and a chanteuse launched from the saloon circuit of Tulsa were among the 10-member, all-female class ushered into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in November.
Six of the honorees were in attendance during a ceremony at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. Family members of the four posthumous inductees also were present, along with an impressive array of previously honored Hall of Famers.
All but one of the newly minted state musical legends were born in Oklahoma.
This year marked the first all-female class for the Hall of Fame, which held its first induction ceremony in 1997.
One of the most sought-after luminaries in a room aglow with stars was Gayla Peevey, who scored as a 10-year-old with a Christmas novelty song that is continuing to command air play and holiday popularity into its 65th year.
The daughter of the late Tulsa performer Gus Hardin, Toni Jones of Sapulpa, accepted the accolades for her mother during the induction luncheon.
Gus Hardin, born Carolyn Ann Blankenship in Tulsa in 1945, became the city’s foremost female rock and blues headliner by the end of the 1960s.
Leon Russell once called her voice “a combination of Tammy Wynette, Otis Redding, and a truck driver.”
She married keyboardist Steve Hardin and retained his surname after their divorce. It was another Tulsa musical giant, Tony Twist, who applied the appellation “Gus” when she was just a teenager.
By the time she signed a contract with the recording company in the early 1980s, she was widely and lovingly known simply as Gus.
inserted Gus into its country lineup, despite her development and reputation as Tulsa’s blues-soul-rock queen.
The move paid off for Gus and for the label. In 1983, Billboard and Cashbox each saluted Gus with New Country Artist recognition. In 1984, she was hailed as Top New Female Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music.
She hit the Top 10 country charts twice, in 1983 with “After the Last Goodbye” and in 1985 with “All Tangled Up in Love,” a duet with Earl Thomas Conley.
released three studio albums by Gus, and a fourth album, by the Rainy Day label, was pressed on the fifth anniversary of her death.
Gus died in an automobile accident in Mayes County on Feb. 17, 1996, at the age of 50.
Peevey has been a California resident since shortly after her ascent to stardom in her pre-teen years.
Born in Oklahoma City in 1943, she began singing and performing in local productions while still in elementary school. As a 9-year-old, she was joining future rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson on stage.
That brought young Gayla to the attention of Columbia Records, who signed her to a recording contract. The next year, Columbia presented the novelty tune “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” to Gayla.
The resulting single was an immediate holiday hit. She performed the song on the popular television program “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Capturing the spirit of the moment, an Oklahoma City TV and radio station, , and the Oklahoma City Times newspaper launched a fundraiser to purchase a hippo for the Oklahoma City Zoo.
Donations arrived from around the state and around the nation. In just a matter of weeks, a 3-year-old, 700-pound hippo, Matilda, arrived in Oklahoma City and was presented by Gayla to the zoo on Christmas Eve 1953.
Matilda enjoyed the next 45 years at the zoo while becoming a celebrity in her own right.
Gayla continued to record with Columbia over the next five years, and teamed with another child star, Jimmy Boyd, on a single.
The Peevey family moved to California, Gayla said, hoping to deter her entry into show business.
“They just wanted me to be a normal kid,” she said with a smile.
“Most people move to California to get into show business. I went there to get out of it. It’s so funny, but it’s the truth,” she said.
The transition did not work as smoothly as the Peeveys expected.
Gayla picked up a guitar, began to write songs and continued to sing.
In 1959, she signed with Joy Records and recorded nine singles, all under the name of Jamie Horton and released over a four-year stretch.
Gayla made her exit from the music world after her final single in 1962.
She graduated from San Diego State University before entering the teaching profession. She eventually owned and operated an advertising firm before retirement.
Still, her hippopotamus recording has kept her name in a prominent international position, for at least one month every year.
She answers calls from around the world as Christmas approaches, satisfying requests from radio stations from Australia to Ireland, all eager to talk about a novelty song recorded 65 years ago.
“New generations have been introduced to it,” she said. “And they think it’s a new song.”
Gayla Peevey might be considered a “one-hit wonder,” but that one hit has produced a lifetime of memories for a youngster from Oklahoma.
“Even though I’ve lived in California for a long time, I’ve always felt like Oklahoma was my home,” she said.
The other 2018 inductees:
Molly Bee Born in Oklahoma City, died in 2009 at age of 69. Early recognition came in 1952 with her recording of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” Was a regular on “The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show” television show in the 1950s and 1960s. Appeared in four movies.
Born in Moore, graduated from University of Oklahoma. In 2003, was named Top New Female Vocalist by Academy of Country Music. Her 2002 debut “When You Lie Next to Me” landed in the Top 10, spent 33 weeks on the charts.
Born near Sapulpa, died in August 2018 at age of 76. She and younger brother Larry formed rockabilly duo The Collins Kids in the 1950s, recording for Columbia Records and touring with Johnny Cash. Scored hits with “Hop, Skip and Jump” and “Hoy Hoy.”
Born in Broken Bow. Country music’s first female record producer. She sang with Neil Young, Hoyt Axton and Roger Miller, and recorded five Top 10 country singles, including “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me).”
Born in Bray, Stephens County. Country singer/songwriter/actor. Toured with Keith Urban and Rascal Flats. Penned songs for Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire, Eli Young Band. Appeared in 2010 film “Pure Country 2: The Gift.”
Born in Chockie, Atoka County. Toured and sang with sister Reba McEntire in 1980s. Released debut solo album in 1993, scoring hits on Christian country charts. Turned out 11 albums over the next 20 years. Inducted into Christian Music Hall of Fame, 2011.
Only one of the 10 inductees not born in Oklahoma. Born in Phoenix, reared in Blanchard where she still resides. Pop, country, Christian singer. Recorded first album for Capitol Records in 1964. Responding to Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” hit, she scored with “Queen of the House” in 1965, peaking at No. 5 on Billboard. In 1966, the song earned her a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Inducted into Country Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame, 1999.
Evelyn LaRue Pittman
Born in McAlester, died in 1992 at age of 82. Author/teacher/composer. Studied at Juilliard School of Music. Noted for her opera “Freedom Child” about Martin Luther King Jr.