Collinsville, Oklahoma
July 1, 2008
C.H. Wright Played In & Directed Local Bands For Decades

Wright Will Be Inducted Into OBA Hall Of Fame
Was Also Newspaper Editor And CHS Baseball Coach

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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 assistance."

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 (June 2008)

Collinsville, I.T.

The Collinsville News Office

Collinsville, I.T.

C.H. Wright and his $10 "street drum"

Ted Wright Note: This is a condensed version of C.H. Wright's band story written for the Oklahoma Bandmaster's July 23, 2008 Hall of Fame program. There are many other stories and photos that could be shared later.