Famous Okies: Leon Russell

Fundraiser for Leon Russell Monument Fund rescheduled for April
Posted at 1:11 PM, May 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-07 14:12:28-04

Leon Russell was an American musician and songwriter and he's a famous Okie!

Born in Lawton as Claude Russell Bridges on April 2, 1942, Russell began playing the piano at a young age. Russell would later attend Will Rogers High School in Tulsa. He had several classmates who would later become famous like Anita Bryant, Elvin Bishop, and David Gates.

READ MORE: Famous from Tulsa: Meet the celebrities who call Tulsa their hometown

As a teenager, Russell was already performing most nights at nightclubs around Tulsa. He took the name Leon from a friend who lent him a fake ID to get into clubs in which he was legally too young to perform.

Russell would later move to Los Angeles in 1958 and became a session musician playing piano for many notable recording artists like The Beach Boys, Dick Dale, and Jan and Dean. By 1970, he had become a solo recording artist without relinquishing his other roles in the music industry. Russell played not only the piano, but also guitar, bass guitar, and baritone horn.

He's been involved with numerous bestselling music records. Over the course of his six-decade career, Russell recorded 33 albums and at least 430 songs. Russell played a variety of genres such as pop, folk-rock, surf, gospel, bluegrass, country, Tulsa sound, and so much more.

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Russell's collaborations rank as some of the most successful in music history, including a collaboration studio album with Elton John. As a touring musician, he's also performed with hundreds of notable artists.

His recordings earned have earned the musician six gold records. Russell also received two Grammy Awards. In 2011, he was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Russell died quietly in his sleep at his suburban Nashville home on the morning of November 13, 2016, at the age of 74.

READ MORE: Rocker Leon Russell dies at 74 in Nashville

Russell's legacy rocks on with his discography, but also with the Church Studio. He bought the building in 1972 and turned it into a recording studio. It's now the home of Shelter Records where artists like Willie Nelson and Tom Petty have recorded their music.

The Church Studio also operates as a museum and event space.

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