Oklahoma

Album: Oklahoma (2019)
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Songfacts®:

  • When Keb' Mo' first started work on "Oklahoma," the title track of his 14th studio album, he didn't think the idea would pan out. "There was no plan with the song 'Oklahoma,' he told uDiscover Music. "It was something I was working on in different ways, but I thought the melody and hooks weren't working, so I put it aside." But that all changed when he met Dara Tucker, a soul singer-songwriter who happened to be from the Sooner State, at a New Year's Day party he and his wife hosted at their home for fellow musicians. The pair scheduled a songwriting session and worked up a rough version of the song.
  • Mo' still wasn't sold on the track until he met up with his friend, guitarist Robert Randolph, to go over potential songs for the album. "I was trying to think of something for him to play on the new album, but I didn't really have anything that I thought would fit. I told him about my 'Oklahoma' idea. I asked him to play some licks on his lap steel guitar to use on the end of the song. He started playing and it was so great I went, 'Oh my God.' Then I brought in the bluegrass violinist Andy Leftwich and added his solo to the Latin groove and all of a sudden I realized that I had something special."
  • In a 2022 Songfacts interview, Mo' said the song illuminates particularly tragic moments in the state's history that are often swept under the rug, from the plight of the Choctaw Indians to the 1921 race massacre in Tulsa's Greenwood District, also known as Black Wall Street. The prominent neighborhood was burned to the ground by a white mob on Memorial Day weekend after a Black resident was accused of the attempted sexual assault of a white elevator operator.

    "It's said very lightly, but when I get to the bridge, I drop the bomb," he explained. "The lyric goes, 'Greenwood, Archer, and Pine/There lives an elevated mind.' Imagine what that neighborhood must have been like in 1921. This neighborhood was awesome in business. Maybe not because they were such great businessmen, but they were left out of the white world, where they were not allowed to go and do their business, so they had their own neighborhood. Every dollar went around the neighborhood 30 times, so the neighborhood became really rich. There must have been jealousy there and you know what happened."
  • The bridge's lyric, "'Cause when they go low, we go high," is a reference to Michelle Obama's famous catchphrase from the 2016 Democratic National Convention, where the First Lady explained how the Obamas adopted the motto to deal with bullies during their time in the White House. "You don't stoop to their level," she explained.
  • Mo', who only performed this one time in the song's namesake state, told uDiscover Music why he made the somewhat controversial decision to name the album after this tune: "I made it the title song because I thought it was the most interesting, haunting cut on the record. It was the last thing that was created for the album, so it really wanted to be on the record in a bad way. In hindsight, it might not have been the best choice, because Oklahoma is a really right-wing state, with a lot of Trump supporters. The song is about the special parts of Oklahoma, though, and for me, it just resonated. I went with my heart. I think people are getting the song."
  • In a 2019 interview with Down Beat magazine, the blues veteran explained that he employs a subtler approach to his message songs to get his points across. "I approach issues very carefully now - not because I'm scared to say anything, but because I want to be heard," he said. 'The thing is, I do my records for real people, so I put myself in their place. If I didn't, I'd be hearing, 'Get out of politics! Just stick to music!' People don't want to be challenged socially. Really, my job as a musician, as someone who communicates in a public way, is to get people to listen and then get them to think."
  • The album won the Grammy Award for Best Americana Album in 2020.

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