Unsung 1921: OmaleyB’s Tribute to a Massacre

by Anna Attie

OmaleyB’s debut album, Unsung 1921, takes us back in time on an airplane. “Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign,” says a placid announcer voice at the start of the opening track. Listeners are welcomed aboard and instructed to buckle up.

The album is a tribute to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, in which a white mob attacked Black residents and their businesses in Tulsa’s prosperous Greenwood District, then known as Black Wall Street. It is an album about tragedy and resilience that is at once chilling and uplifting. 

Though he grew up in Tulsa, OmaleyB had never heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre until he was in his 20s. Around 2016, he accidentally stumbled across a YouTube video about a couple that was shot and killed on their way back from church on the day of the massacre.

“And then I became so passionate,” says OmaleyB. “I was angry, I was frustrated. I didn't believe it was true. Because I lived my whole life in Tulsa, and I never heard it.”

He started to watch everything he could about the Tulsa Race Massacre and Black Wall Street. “I started to take notes,” he says, “and I started to piece together songs.”

Inspired by the video about the couple, OmaleyB wrote one of the album’s most moving songs, “We Died In Love: Church.” It opens with the voice of OmaleyB’s late father, a preacher, offering a lesson about compassion. Toward the end of this gospel-inspired love song, we hear muted gunshots and screams, and the music fades into spoken-word poetry by Tulsa poets Jerica Wortham and Sterling Matthews. Wortham and Matthews are two of many Tulsa artists featured on the album. 

Unsung 1921 ends with a promise: “I’ll sing for the ones that were gone too long… ‘Cause if they never talk about you, I’ll sing for you.”

OmaleyB says that with the arrival of the centennial anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, this long-forgotten tragedy is finally getting attention. But he acknowledges that talking about the massacre is only a start.

“It’s not enough. Everyone wants to talk about it, like it’s a trend,” he says. “But I’m a lover of action. So if a wrong was done, how can we implement a system, or some way for them to get back what they lost in the form of reparations?”

OmaleyB hopes his album can be an entry point into envisioning repair for Tulsa’s Black community. “I hope [listeners] go to research what happened,” he says. “I want it to be a healing project.”

OmaleyB can be found on Instagram as @omaley_b, or on Facebook as OmaleyB. His music videos can also be found on YouTube.