Entry Category: Arts - Starting with M

McFerrin, Robert, Sr.

Robert McFerrin Sr. was an African-American baritone opera and concert singer who became the first black male to appear in an opera at the Metropolitan Opera house in New York City, his debut following by less than three weeks the well-publicized breaking of the color barrier by contralto Marian Anderson. However, McFerrin’s career at the Met was brief, being limited to ten performances in three seasons over three years. Although he sang in European opera houses and performed concerts extensively, he failed to attain major prominence. He is best remembered as the father of singer and conductor Bobby McFerrin, with whom he sometimes performed. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1995. Robert McFerrin was born on March …

McKissic, James Henry (Jimmy)

Jimmy McKissic was a world-renowned pianist from Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) who spent much of his life in France but performed throughout the world, including more than two dozen events at Carnegie Hall in New York. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1994. James Henry McKissic was born on March 16, 1940, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to the Reverend James E. McKissic and Rosa Daniels McKissic; he had five brothers and five sisters, including one sister who was adopted. Growing up in Pine Bluff, McKissic was playing the piano by the age of three. He played in his father’s church and for other local congregations as a youth; his mother taught him until he …

McMath, Betty Dortch Russell

aka: Betty Dortch Russell
aka: Betty Russell
Betty Dortch Russell McMath became Arkansas’s most prominent portrait artist during the second half of the twentieth century. Her commissions included governors, judges, literary figures, and numerous business, civic, and social leaders. Beyond portraiture, her paintings seized the everyday moments of small-town life in Arkansas and chronicled its plantation culture. She produced portraits of five Arkansas governors, including Sid McMath, who was her second husband. Betty Ruth Dortch was born on July 14, 1920, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the daughter of Steele Dortch and Mabel Wittenberg Dortch. She had one sister, Judith. The family lived on 1,200 acres near Scott (Pulaski and Lonoke counties) in a home her father built. The house was situated on Bearskin Lake about one …

McRae Jail

The McRae Jail, located in a field in McRae (White County), is a one-story, reinforced concrete structure built in 1934. The McRae Jail was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 20, 1992. The small railroad town of McRae, with its local economy dependent on the timber and strawberry industries, was apparently in need of a jail when President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated his Depression-era New Deal agencies. While the National Register nomination states that the jail was constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), it also says the McRae Jail was built in August 1934. The WPA would not operate in Arkansas until July 1935, however, and the jail is not included in a comprehensive list …

McVicar House

The McVicar House is a one-story wooden structure in the heart of downtown Little Rock (Pulaski County). Originally on Lot 8 of Block 32 between the Brownlee House and the Hinderliter Grog Shop, the house was moved for aesthetic purposes to its current location on the grounds of what is now Historic Arkansas Museum during the 1939–1941 restoration by Louise Loughborough and Max Mayer. On February 16, 1842, Thomas Thorn sold Lots 7, 8, and 9 on Block 32 to James McVicar for the sum of $4,000, even though Thorn had acquired the same lots at a public auction from Chester Ashley four years earlier for $128. Thorn was able to turn a substantial profit, thirty-one times his original investment, …

Medical Arts Building

The sixteen-story Medical Arts Building at 236 Central Avenue in downtown Hot Springs (Garland County) was the tallest building in Arkansas from its completion in 1930 until 1960, when the Tower Building was completed in downtown Little Rock (Pulaski County). (The tallest building in Arkansas currently is the forty-story Metropolitan Tower in Little Rock, which was built in 1986.) The upper floors of the Medical Arts Building are now vacant. The Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas (HPAA) listed it in 2012 as one of the state’s most endangered places. The Medical Arts Building was constructed by general contractor G. C. Gordon Walker with work beginning on December 1, 1929. Investors from Little Rock and New Orleans, Louisiana, purchased the site, …

Melody Boys Quartet

The Melody Boys Quartet was a Southern gospel music group based in Little Rock (Pulaski County). The Melody Boys Quartet officially disbanded on December 31, 2012, at the end of the group’s “Exit 63” tour, celebrating sixty-three years together. The group had its origins in the late 1930s when Herschel Foshee, aided by Joe Roper, created the Stamps-Baxter Quartet. The group was named after the music publishing company founded by V. O. Stamps and J. R. Baxter in 1926; the publisher was established in Texas but later opened an office in Pangburn (White County). The quartet’s original purpose was to sing and record the company’s publications exactly as printed and thus aid in selling Stamps-Baxter songbooks to interested musical groups …

Menifee High School Gymnasium

The Menifee High School Gymnasium, located on the northwestern corner of North Park and East Mustang streets in Menifee (Conway County), was built in 1938 with assistance from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a Depression-era federal relief agency. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 6, 2002. Schools for African Americans in the Menifee area were available since at least 1919, and when the Great Depression struck these students were centered in East Side School District No. 5’s Conway County Training School, located on five acres about a mile south of Menifee. In 1938, the district succeeded in getting WPA funding to construct a gymnasium for the complex. Construction started in the spring of 1938, …

Meyer, Rhena Salome Miller

aka: Goat Woman of Smackover
Rhena Salome Miller Meyer—better known as “the Goat Woman”—lived in Smackover (Union County) for over fifty years. Her sometimes reclusive nature, numerous pet goats, and considerable musical talents as a “one-woman band” all contributed to her folk-figure status in the region. Rhena (sometimes spelled Rhene) Miller was born in Orwin, Pennsylvania, on July 26, 1905. Her father, John R. Miller, was a Quaker who worked on a dairy farm and had a traveling medicine show that promoted the Seven Sisters Hair Tonic. He is said to have used young Rhena as a model in advertising the hair-growth tonic; however, as with much of her life story, no evidence has been found for this. Her mother, Katie Kessler, was an opera …

Mickel, Lillian Estes Eichenberger

Lillian Estes Eichenberger Mickel pioneered women’s roles in multiple fields. She served as a professional photographer, founded a nursing home, established a unique facility for handicapped children, was an accomplished portrait painter, and served as Johnson County’s historian. Lillian Eichenberger was born in Clarksville (Johnson County) on June 14, 1909, to Lafayette Eichenberger and Martha Louisa Black Eichenberger. She had seven siblings. Her father, a house painter, died in 1912. Her mother was an extremely talented seamstress. At the age of twelve, Eichenberger went to work in M. E. Anderson’s photography studio in order to give financial help to her widowed mother. She learned the photography business, becoming the first woman photographer in the state to make and distribute colored …

Mid-Southern Watercolorists

Mid-Southern Watercolorists (MSW) was founded and incorporated in 1970 as a nonprofit organization by five artists: Doris Williamson Mapes, Bruce R. Anderson, Josephine Graham, Edwin C. Brewer, and Catherine Tharp Altvater. The purpose of MSW, which has its headquarters in Little Rock (Pulaski County), is to elevate the stature of watercolor and educate the public about the significance of watercolor as an important creative, permanent painting medium; to promote the highest aesthetic standards; and to further the interest of painters in watercolor by its programs and competitive exhibits. At the group’s first organizational meeting, nearly forty people, responding to a newspaper advertisement, met in the Sears Community Room at University Mall in Little Rock. MSW’s articles of incorporation and by-laws, …

Mikel, Elmer Wayne

Elmer Wayne Mikel was a bootlegger during Prohibition and later became a self-published author who wrote books and essays about his criminal life and his experiences at the notorious Tucker State Prison Farm (now the Tucker Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction) in Jefferson County in the 1930s. Mikel was also a songwriter who wrote about Arkansas subjects, including the deadly Greenwood (Sebastian County) tornado of 1968. Elmer Mikel was born on October 8, 1905, in Jenny Lind (Sebastian County), one of ten children of George Elmer Mikel and Amanda Featherston Mikel. George Mikel, a Missouri native, was active in the United Mine Workers of America and ran as a socialist candidate for governor of Arkansas in 1912. Elmer Mikel attended high school but …

Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel

aka: Cooper Chapel
The Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel, commonly called the Cooper Chapel, is a non-denominational chapel in Bella Vista (Benton County) designed by architects E. Fay Jones, who also designed Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs (Carroll County), and Maurice Jennings, Jones’s business partner for twenty-five years. John Cooper Sr. built three retirement/recreation villages in Arkansas from the 1950s to the 1970s, including Bella Vista Village in northwestern Arkansas, which he opened in 1965. His wife, Mildred Borum Cooper, was his partner throughout these and other ventures. She, too, was successful in business, serving as postmistress in West Memphis (Crittenden County) and Cherokee Village (Sharp and Fulton counties) and owning gift shops in Cherokee Village and Bella Vista. She was also active …

Miller County Courthouse

The Miller County Courthouse, dedicated in 1939, is located at 400 Laurel Street in downtown Texarkana (Miller County) in an area with a number of residences. The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program recognizes the four-story building as architecturally and historically significant for its standing as a visible result of the New Deal and as an impressive example of Art Deco architecture in Miller County. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 29, 1998. On September 19, 1938, Miller County determined that the courthouse built in 1888 was no longer capable of housing county business. The county needed a new, modern courthouse, as Texarkana had grown substantially since the late nineteenth century. In addition, the U.S. District …

Miller, David

David Freeland Miller, who maintains a broadcasting studio in his Little Rock (Pulaski County) home, is producer and host of Swingin’ Down the Lane, a one-hour program that is broadcast weekly on more than forty National Public Radio (NPR) affiliates and independent commercial stations. The program is also heard on stations in Perth, Australia, and Hamburg, Germany. David Miller was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on April 6, 1928, the third of four children of Alan and Margaret Miller. He received his secondary education at the Pingry School in Elizabeth. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Princeton University and master’s and PhD degrees, also in psychology, from the University of Michigan. While still pursuing his doctorate, Miller was …

Miller, Harry Lewis

Harry Lewis Miller was a photographer active in Arkansas at the turn of the twentieth century. His White River landscapes and scenes of daily life throughout the north-central region of the state form an important aesthetic and social history legacy. While some of Miller’s images were familiar, they were generally unattributed until staff at the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Old Independence Regional Museum in Batesville (Independence County) researched his work and mounted exhibits in 1998 and 2003, respectively. The oldest of nine children, Harry Miller was born on April 1, 1870, in Dodge County, Minnesota, to Anton and Mary (Lewis) Miller, who were farmers. By 1880, they had moved their growing family to North Dakota, …

Miller, Nick

The artistry of stone carver Nick Miller is found in cemeteries throughout northwest Arkansas. The tombstones he made—crisp and legible well over a century later—employ the mourning symbols of his time: clasping hands, weeping willows, lambs, doves. Yet Miller’s bas-relief motifs and deeply incised lettering exhibit a level of skill and detail not generally found among contemporary carvers. All that is known about Nick Miller’s origins is that he was born in Germany. He never married, had no relatives in America, and is listed on the 1880 census as an “old batch” at age thirty-six. In addition to his distinctive carvings, Miller’s tablet-style tombstones are recognizable by his “Nick Miller,” “N. Miller,” or “N. M.” signature at the base. He …

Miller, Richard “Curly”

Richard “Curly” Miller was a renowned musician who lived in Kingston (Madison County). He and his wife, Carole Anne Rose, co-founded the band The Old 78’s. He was also a noted organic farmer, establishing Sweden Creek Farm with Rose in the deep woods of the Ozark Mountains. Richard Miller was born on August 10, 1954, to John C. Miller and Roberta Beck Miller in Baltimore, Maryland, although he was raised in Penfield, New York. He played classical violin as a child, rock-and-roll guitar as a teenager, and three-finger Leo Kottke–style guitar during his one semester at the State University of New York at Potsdam. Guitarists Doc Watson and Norman Blake inspired him to learn flat-picking guitar, while Frankie Gavin and …

Minor, James Calvin (Jim)

James Calvin (Jim) Minor was an American country singer/songwriter, producer, publisher, disc jockey, and record label owner. He recorded country music for labels including Mercury and United Artists and managed the careers of other significant recording artists. Minor recorded under the name Jimmy Minor until 1960, when he recorded for United Artists as Jim Minor. Jim Minor was born on January 20, 1931, in DeValls Bluff (Prairie County). His mother, Margaret Meyer Minor, was a niece of noted photographer Mike Disfarmer. He learned to play the guitar and sing at an early age. When he was a teenager, he won a talent contest at what is now the Arkansas State Fair and Livestock Show; the prize was to go to …

Minstrel Shows

Popular during the nineteenth century, the minstrel show was one of the earliest forms of theatrical entertainment in the United States. The elements of the genre were developed during the 1820s and 1830s, and the first show fully dedicated to minstrelsy was staged in 1843 by the Virginia Minstrels. Early performances were given by white performers who used burnt cork to blacken their faces in order to represent different black characters. The white performers also drew heavily on the music produced by African Americans, and in particular plantation slaves in the South. The banjo, an instrument with origins in West Africa, and the “bones”—pairs of bones or wood that were struck against one another—quickly became part of the standard minstrel …

Miss Laura’s Social Club

The former Miss Laura’s Social Club, a house of prostitution, serves as a unique visitor center for Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and is a reminder of the town’s rich history. Located at 123 First Street, it is the only former bordello in Arkansas listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On the border between what was the known United States and Indian Territory, Fort Smith was one of the historic Old West towns. Being a border town invited the business of prostitution into the town, and several bordellos were established around the turn of the century. Built in 1896 as the Riverfront Commercial Hotel, the house at 123 First Street was bought by Laura Ziegler in 1898. Zeigler borrowed …

Mississippi County Courthouse, Chickasawba District

The Mississippi County Courthouse serving as the seat of justice for the northern part of the county is located at 200 Walnut Street in downtown Blytheville (Mississippi County). The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program recognizes the four-story building as architecturally and historically significant for its local standing in Mississippi County. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 6, 1996. After the city of Blytheville was incorporated in 1892, city leaders sought new economic stimulus in the form of transportation. Mississippi County was already an agricultural hub, with cotton as its main product. The Mississippi River, just eight miles away from Blytheville, provided farmers with fertile soil and natural flooding. Lumber was also a major industry when …

Mississippi County Courthouse, Osceola District

The Mississippi County Courthouse serving as the seat of justice for the southern part of Mississippi County is the central feature of a courthouse square bordered by Hale, Walnut, Johnson, and Poplar streets in downtown Osceola (Mississippi County). The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program recognizes the three-story building as architecturally and historically significant as a prime example of the Classical style in Mississippi County. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 13, 1978. The Mississippi County Courthouse—Chickasawba District, located in the other county seat in Blytheville and opened in 1921, serves the northern part of the county. As Osceola experienced an economic boom due to railroad traffic, lumber, and agriculture production around the beginning of the …

Missouri and North Arkansas Depot (Leslie)

The Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad (M&NA) depot in Leslie (Searcy County) is a passenger and freight train station that was constructed circa 1925 in the Plain Traditional style. The single-story stone masonry structure, located at the southwest end of Walnut Street, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 11, 1992. The town of Leslie, situated in the northern Arkansas Ozark Mountains on a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Little Red River, was an isolated and remote community during much of the nineteenth century. In 1902, its population was about fifty people. However, in 1903, the potential of Leslie’s natural resources convinced the M&NA to extend its line from Harrison (Boone County) to the …

Missouri Pacific Depot (Arkadelphia)

The Missouri Pacific Depot located in Arkadelphia (Clark County) is an active train station that was constructed in the Mediterranean style in 1917. Added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 11, 1992, it is located on South Fifth Street. The first settlers arrived in the Arkadelphia area, located along the Ouachita River, around 1808, and it was incorporated in 1857. In 1873, river transportation was replaced by rail when the Cairo and Fulton connected the city with Little Rock (Pulaski County). This line was acquired by the Missouri Pacific in 1917, and the company constructed a number of new depots to serve communities along the tracks, including in Gurdon (Clark County). The Arkadelphia depot was constructed south …

Missouri Pacific Depot (Gurdon)

The Missouri Pacific Depot in Gurdon (Clark County) was constructed in 1917. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 11, 1992, and is located on North First Street. While the area around the depot is still used by the Union Pacific Railroad in the twenty-first century, the former train station is used only for storage. Gurdon was founded in 1880 along the Cairo and Fulton Railroad. The town was founded at the junction of several railroad lines that led to Little Rock (Pulaski County), Texarkana (Miller County), Glenwood (Pike County), and Camden (Ouachita County). The timber resources surrounding the community and the town’s importance as a transportation hub led to a growing population in the …

Missouri Pacific Depot (Malvern)

The Missouri Pacific Depot is an operating train depot located at 200 East First Street in Malvern (Hot Spring County). The Mediterranean-style building was constructed around 1917 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 11, 1992. By 2018, it was serving as a depot for Amtrak’s Texas Eagle. Malvern was created as a stop for the Cairo and Fulton Railroad in 1873. The settlement quickly grew and incorporated in 1876 and, two years later, became the county seat, replacing nearby Rockport (Hot Spring County). The railroad played an important role in the growth of the city, as the two major products from the area—brick and timber—were shipped across the country from the station. A second …

Monroe County Courthouse

The Monroe County Courthouse is located at 123 Madison Street in downtown Clarendon (Monroe County). The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program recognizes the three-story building as architecturally and historically significant as one of Arkansas’s most prominent courthouses and its sole example of the Italian Renaissance Revival style in Monroe County. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 14, 1976. The Monroe County Courthouse stands on the same site as the previous four courthouses stood, including one that Union armies dissembled during the Civil War and another that burned down on New Year’s Day in 1895. Charles L. Thompson, a prolific architect from Little Rock (Pulaski County) who is credited for renowned structures across the state, designed …

Montana, Patsy

aka: Ruby Blevins
Patsy Montana was a pioneering female country music singer whose signature song, “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” was the first record by a female country artist to sell a million copies. Patsy Montana was born Ruby Blevins on October 30, 1908, near Hot Springs (Garland County). She was the eleventh child and only daughter of farmer Augustus Blevins and his wife, Victoria. By the 1920 census, the family was living in Hempstead County. Raised on church songs, fiddle music, and the music of country star Jimmie Rodgers, Blevins headed to Los Angeles with her brother and sister-in-law in 1930; hoping to catch the public’s eye, she changed the spelling of her first name to Rubye. She studied violin …

Montgomery County Courthouse

The Montgomery County Courthouse is located on Highway 270 in Mount Ida (Montgomery County). The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program recognizes the two-story building as architecturally and historically significant for its local standing in Montgomery County. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 27, 1976. The courthouse’s style is often described as Arkansas Adamesque. Designed by Clyde Ferrel and built in 1923, the Montgomery County Courthouse is constructed of random-patterned native stone. The structure’s restrained Classical elements are reminiscent of courthouses across Arkansas, including pilasters and a stone arch over the principal entrance. The ceiling of the courtroom is made of pressed tin that has been painted white. As county demands grew, Montgomery County built an …