RIDGE BOND – Mr. “OKLAHOMA!”
On the Broadway stage Ridge Bond created Curly, the singing cowboy star of the historically acclaimed musical “OKLAHOMA!” And in real life he was the singing cowboy from Oklahoma. As the only native Oklahoma and Native American to portray Curly, he put his boots and chaps on over 2,600 times and sang his way to national and international recognition as Mr. “OKLAHOMA!”
Ridgely McClure Bond was born in 1922 in McAlester, OK. He graduated from the University of Tulsa in 1943 and after a tour of duty as a naval officer he headed for the bright lights of Broadway. In 1946 he auditioned for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein as an understudy for then Curly, Howard Keel. Several months later Keel left the show and a star was born.
Bond proclaimed the virtues of Oklahoma meadows’ bright golden haze for the next eight years on Broadway and as the star of the National Touring Company. In 1951 the U.S. State Department sent Bond and the cast of “OKLAHOMA!” to West Berlin as a goodwill gesture. The performances were broadcast on Radio Free Europe and West Germany in addition to the standing room only theater performances. Residents of the Russian-controlled East Berlin would sneak across the divided city every night, sometimes sitting on straw bales to see the show. Germany loved the singing cowboy and “OKLAHOMA!” was not only a theatrical triumph, it was a triumph in international diplomacy.
In 1953 Bond secured “Oklahoma” as the State Song for his fellow Oklahomans. Former Governor George Nigh, who was then a young Representative from McAlester, introduced a bill to make “Oklahoma” the State Song but had to table the bill after an old legislator stood up and tearfully sang the old song. Nigh called friend Ridge Bond for help and after a quick rehearsal Bond sang the song for the legislature, and they passed it immediately.
After officially retiring from the stage in 1954, Bond was an active businessman in Tulsa. He received many Oklahoma honors including the prestigious Lynn Riggs Awards for distinguished contribution to the arts and was named an Ambassador of Goodwill for the Sooner State by the Oklahoma Heritage Society. In 1993 the U.S. Postal Service used Bond’s likeness on a special commemorative stamp celebrating the 50th Anniversary “OKLAHOMA!”, the Broadway show that put Oklahoma on the map.
Bond passed away in 1997 and is buried in Claremore, OK. Even in death the legacy of Ridge Bond lives on every time the State Song is sung and in every performance of “OKLAHOMA!” In life, as on the stage, he was the authentic Oklahoman, blessed with the same warm spirit as the make-believe pioneers in the play. “One of the best things that ever happened to the international image of the 46th state was Ridge Bond.” (Tulsa Daily World)