The first known
photograph of Claude Henderson (C.H.) Wright in Collinsville, Indian
Territory, shows him in 1900 as a 7 year old with a drum which was not
only his first instrument but likely the first band instrument in Collinsville.
By age 12, C.H. was playing the bass drum in the town's adult band (many
years before school bands formed). His father was a member of the town
band (formed in 1903) and the youngster always attended band practices
with his Dad. The director (frustrated at not finding an adult who could
keep march rhythm) gave C.H. a chance to try out. Three days later he
was playing with the Collinsville band at a "roping contest"
at Ochelata and had the opportunity to see Will Rogers perform there.
C.H. was too small to hold the big drum alone so he had a helper for
awhile. By age 16 (~1909), Wright had his first opportunity to direct
the town band at a 3-day horse racing event. He went on to play in and
direct a variety of local bands for decades after that.
Claude Wright was a newspaper man by trade and many of his band director
"jobs" were unpaid and done in his "spare time"
while still publishing the newspaper each week (and eventually raising
5 boys). A 1911 photo shows C.H. Wright playing cornet in the town band
along with his father (W.L. Wright). A 1913 copy of the "Collinsville
Musicians' Union" constitution, by-laws and prices shows C.H. Wright
as an officer. For several years (mostly prior to World War I), the
community band would play weekly concerts, street dances, travel to
other communities (via Model T's on dusty roads or the train) to "boost"
or promote Collinsville, and provide music for the local theatres that
had both silent movies and live entertainers.
As early as 1912, C.H. Wright was director of a boys band in Collinsville
with members too young for the adult band. Oakley Pittman (a 1986 OBA
Hall of Fame inductee) wrote of his experience as a member of an early
day band in Collinsville: "Claude Wright, the second generation
publisher and owner of The Collinsville News, directed without pay,
for decades, the city bands of Collinsville, which had a population
of some 15,000 people. He organized and directed a boys band of 75 members.
I was one of the fortunate ones he started and became an enthusiastic
member of that band in about 1914 or 15. ... Here was a true pioneer,
who for the love of the art, gave of himself unselfishly, and inspired
dozens of youngsters like myself to become fine musicians." Pittman
continued (in a 1993 letter): "Remember - there was no so-called
'canned music' - no radios, few very poor phonographs, sound movies
were still 13 or 14 years away, and certainly no television, so all
music was live and proudly played by the individual with no electronic
There were few "town" bands in Oklahoma that survived very
long after World War I. High school bands had become the trend by then.
In March 1923, news editor Wright started making weekly trips (from
Collinsville to Bixby) to organize and direct a Bixby band. That inexperienced
Bixby band consisted of some adults (including Mayor Stiltes) and students
who would become the nucleus of Bixby's first high school band that
formed just a year or so later. One former band student later recalled
Mr. Wright taking a boat across the Arkansas River to reach band practice
when the bridge was out.
In November 1923, the initial 15 members of the first Collinsville high
school band started meeting for practice at the Collinsville newspaper
office under the direction of Claude Wright. In February 1924, Wright
and a some members of his high school band traveled to Tulsa to hear
a concert by the Sousa Band directed by John Philip Sousa. Three of
the Collinsville band members even bicycled to the Tulsa event and had
a brief audience with Sousa himself. There is not a complete record
available of which years Mr. Wright taught band at the Collinsville
High School as he would step aside when another full-time band director
was available and refill the spot when the need arose during the 1920s
and 1930s. Claude Wright also became the coach of Collinsville's first
high school baseball team in 1933 (after many years with no team other
than 'town' teams which Wright often coached also). There is a 1933
news story about Mr. Wright locating a large truck so the band students
could perform at football game in Pryor as this was before school buses
were common. In 1934 the CHS band was featured on a KTUL radio broadcast.
In 1938, Mr. Wright organized a girls drum and bugle corp in Collinsville.
In January 1941, C.H. Wright was asked to organize a band for the Owasso
school system with 112 eager youngsters but practically no band instruments
in the community. The school and parents had to come up with instruments
so, according to Wright, he could "discard his editorial toga for
two hours each day and do his level best to earn his hire by teaching
these youngsters to 'toot a horn'." Again, there is not a complete
record of the years Wright taught band at Owasso but he can be spotted
in various years in photos with the band. Owasso had the misfortune
to have their high school building burn in February 1945 and lost most
of their band instruments. A May 1949 photos shows Wright and the Owasso
band atop a double decker 'tourist' bus in Collinsville's 50th anniversary
parade. Wright appears with the staff photos in the 1949-50 Owasso yearbook.
In March of 1955, C.H. Wright took Mr. Gordon's Collinsville HS band
to the Pawnee Contest with just a few days notice following a death
in the Gordon family. Several parents had kept their band students home
on that sub freezing day so the drum major made the decision not to
march the band. Mr. Wright commented in his weekly news column the following
week how proud he was of the band members that performed well in the
sight reading portion of the contest with a 'stranger' at the podium.
Claude Wright was semi-retired in 1954 from both band directing and
newspaper business, but by 1955 he was busy again with the weekly newspaper
in Skiatook for many years. Retired again later, he kept busy with his
music, photography and baseball hobbies. C.H. Wright died in 1973.
-- By Ted W. Wright