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UPDATE Legendary musician and Tulsa Sound pioneer Leon Russel dies at 74

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Legendary Oklahoma-born musician and songwriter Leon Russell has died at age 74, his wife confirms.

Russell was born in Lawton and made his early career in Tulsa, where he helped carve the style of rockabilly and country music known as the Tulsa Sound. His most well-known songs include “The Masquerade,” “Delta Lady” and widely covered “A Song for You.”

In July, Russell suffered a heart attack but was reportedly on the path to recovery. His wife, Jan Bridges, confirmed through the musician’s official Facebook page that he died in his sleep early this morning.

Russell was reportedly planning a return to touring in early 2017. In 2013, Russell told current Oklahoma Gazette editor-in-chief Jennifer Chancellor that he had no plans of retirement.

“I've actually heard about the concept of retirement but hadn't considered it for myself,” Russell said. “As my friend Willie Nelson once said, ‘People like us don't retire.’ I guess he would know.”

Jeff Moore, director of Tulsa’s upcoming OKPOP Museum, a celebration of the state’s historic contributions to music and popular culture, said he, like many others, was shocked to hear the news of Russell’s death.

“You look at his career, and it spans 60 years,” Moore said. “He’s worked with the who’s who in the music industry. He’s played with everyone from Willie Nelson and George Jones to Eric Clapton and George Harrison.”

Part of Russell’s legacy is the great breadth of musicians and genres he has played with and impacted. Elton John teamed with Russell to record the acclaimed 2010 album The Union. John tweeted his condolences early this morning.

“My darling Leon Russell passed away last night,” John wrote. “He was a mentor, inspiration and so kind to me. I loved him and always will.”

In 2011, Russell was inducted into both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

As a studio musician in the '60s, Russell played on many of the decade’s most popular songs, including those by The Byrds and Gary Lewis and the Playboys. He would later record with acts like Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra and The Beach Boys.

Russell enjoyed the height of his popularity as a solo performer in the '70s with the release of his self-titled 1970 debut and 1973’s Leon Live, recorded during a performance in Long Beach, California. In 1979, he recorded One for the Road, a collaboration with Willie Nelson.

In 2014, Russell put out Life Journey, his last studio album. In the album’s liner notes, the musician notes that he is in “the final exit of [his] journey.”

“A Song for You,” originally written by Russell in 1970, has been covered by The Carpenters, The Temptations, Willie Nelson, Herbie Hancock (in a duet with Christina Aguilera) and, perhaps most famously, Ray Charles. Charles won a 1994 Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance with the song.

Moore mentioned the death of Canadian folk singer Leonard Cohen earlier this week, saying music has now lost two of its greatest songwriters. The director said Russell’s death marks a sad day for Oklahoma and he hopes this event will lead even more people to his music.

Russell’s career will be prominently featured in the upcoming OKPOP Museum. The museum received a large, private donation of Russell memorabilia in 2013.

“There’s some key, pillar stories for OKPOP, and Leon Russell is one of those key pillars,” Moore said.

Fellow famous Oklahoma musician and producer Steve Ripley, known in part for his work with country band The Tractors, released an email statement to Oklahoma Gazette following the news of Russell’s death. Ripley once owned Tulsa’s The Church Studio, a recording studio founded by Russell that previously housed a worship chapel.

“Leon has been a part of our lives for over 40 years,” Ripley’s statement reads. “He has been an inspiration, mentor, and friend — and, at times, my boss. We have always considered him part of our family and will continue to do so.

“Leon sent me a text message not too long ago, saying, ‘The reason for connection is food, music, friendship and tape machines. The strong stuff is just the "facts of life" (and death). You either laugh or cry,’ to which I replied, ‘Or some of both.’”

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