Sammy Pagna, longtime Tulsa musician, big band leader, dies at 93

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Sammy Pagna, longtime Tulsa big band leader and musician, died Jan. 29 at his home in Branson, Missouri, family members said.He was 93.Services are pending. Whelchel Grace Funeral Home in Forsyth, Missouri, handled arrangements.Beginning in the music’s heyday of the 1940s and then continuing over the next four decades, the big band sound had no bigger advocate or more avid practitioner in Tulsa than Pagna.Among fans of the genre and ballroom dancing, he is remembered in particular for a regular dance he kept going weekly — every Wednesday — for more than 20 years.The gig started at the Elks Club and then moved to Caravan Ballroom before settling at its longtime home at the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa. Pagna was keyboardist.The longtime Jenks resident was a native of Ohio. He studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music until the death of his father, when he left the school to help support the family.It was in 1949, while playing on a dance troupe tour, that Pagna first visited Tulsa. After a successful seven-week gig at a downtown hotel, the next year he moved to town.Later, with his wife, Pat, he helped start the Over 28 Dance Club, which evolved into the Sammy Pagna Dance Club and Orchestra.Pagna and his orchestras played Cain’s Ballroom and various venues through the years, as well as events such as the annual Tulsa Charity Horse Show, where they appeared for 20 years.Reflecting on his career, Pagna told the Tulsa World once that he was grateful to make a living doing what he loved.“I’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “For a musician to make a full-time job out of it in Tulsa is unusual.”The secret to his success? Playing what his audiences wanted to hear.“Bands today, particularly …


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