Photo courtesy Tony Corbell
Photo courtesy Tony Corbell

Executive director of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, Tony Corbell spent the majority of his career in photography. His accomplishments in that industry are extensive; he’s photographed world leaders, astronauts, models, celebrities and musicians, as well as taught photography workshops and seminars, and published myriad photographic works. 

A couple of years ago, Corbell got involved with the OMHOF and sat on its board of directors. Once the entity announced its search for a new executive director, Corbell was hooked. 

We recently caught up with him and got his thoughts on … 

… memories from his storied photography career.

I was a working commercial and editorial photographer for just about 43 years. There were books I’ve written, several great celebrity shoots, political events, even fashion catalogs. In fact, I’ve even photographed three of our U.S. presidents. But my biggest, most published, and best shoot ever was documenting the World Millennial Summit meeting at the United Nations in Sept. 2000. 187 world leaders from every member-nation were there in this historic group photograph including President Clinton, Putin from Russia, Tony Blair of the UK, Ehud Barak from Israel, Yasser Arafat [from Palestine] – everyone. It was pretty exciting to say the least, and I have a lot of great stories about that day.

… joining the OMHOF.

I got involved with the Hall of Fame and actually spent a year on the board of directors. Once they announced they were looking for a new director, I was about ready to retire my photographic career.  I had been a drummer in several bands and had a lot of music around me most of my life. So, it seemed to be a perfect fit.

… the OMHOF and its offerings. 

OMHOF has a great history, and the future is looking extremely bright. It is remarkable the number of incredible musicians, singers and songwriters who have come out of Oklahoma. It’s like a list of who’s who in all kinds of music and different genres. We have one or two induction ceremonies and concert shows each year, honoring those who have roots in Oklahoma. And this year, we will further honor our first inductee, Merle Haggard, with a statue being created in his likeness, to be unveiled at a ceremony in the fall which will coincide with a tribute concert. Merle recorded his Okie From Muskogee album right here at our Civic Center, and that is where this statue will reside.

… what he wants people to know about the OMHOF. 

The Hall of Fame is a well-kept secret travel destination nestled away in the northeast part of the state. And while the public is just finding out about us, the music community across all genres seems to know full well the importance and the impact of what we are doing here – preserving this rich musical history. We have “live” music shows every Thursday night in our fabulous venue, we have a museum honoring those we have inducted, which can offer insights into inductees, their pasts and histories, as well as show off some of their memorabilia. We are also the home for Okie Country radio 101.7, which broadcasts live every morning from their studio inside our Hall of Fame.

… how music and photography have driven him. 

It’s funny how music and photography have worked hand in hand in my life. I have taught lectures and workshops on professional photography throughout the world, and I always ask if there is anyone in the audience with a history in music. There are consistently a high percentage of hands that get raised. I know there is the artist connection. But it also has to do with performance, rates of change in contrasts, and tempos in each.

I have made several trips to Liverpool, England, to photograph the footsteps of the Beatles – and as a self-proclaimed super fan, it still amazes me how they shaped music and musicians, whether you enjoyed their music or not. It’s only fitting that I am now in this role where music plays such a big part of my day-to-day life.  And while I am no longer shooting photography professionally every day, I’ll still be playing music every day, no matter what. … Usually pretty loud.

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