Entries - Entry Category: Music

Allison, Luther

Blues guitarist and singer Luther Allison was born in Arkansas, but like many of his contemporaries in the rural South, he rose to fame in cities far from his original home. His style exemplified the soulful blues of the west side of Chicago, Illinois, where he moved with his family as a child. Later, in 1977, when the popularity of the blues faded in the United States, he began touring Europe extensively and became an international star. Born in Widener (St. Francis County) on August 17, 1939, Luther Allison was the fourteenth of fifteen children, all of whom were musically inclined, born to parents who were cotton farmers. He was exposed to gospel music as a young child, although he …

Altheimer, Joshua

Joshua Altheimer was one of the Delta’s most prolific blues pianists. Altheimer mastered the emerging boogie-woogie style of the 1930s as he accompanied some of the legendary blues musicians of his era. Joshua Altheimer was born on May 17, 1911, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) to Silas Altheimer and Verdis Pruitt Barnes Altheimer. He played his first years in Arkansas, performing during the late 1920s. It is not clear whether Altheimer knew blues legend “Big Bill” Broonzy during this period, who was from his home county and who was raised just a few miles from where he was born. By the 1930s, Altheimer had moved to Chicago, Illinois, and was playing with the likes of John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, Washboard Sam, …

Arkansas [Album]

Arkansas is an album written and recorded by John Oates, a New York–born inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who was half of the duo Hall and Oates. He was accompanied by a group of legendary Americana musicians collectively known as the Good Road Band. Oates called the album the “sum total” of his many musical influences, including rock, folk, blues, and country. Released in 2018, the ten-song album began as a tribute to blues musician Mississippi John Hurt but soon grew to “represent the dawn of American popular music,” as Oates said. The title track “Arkansas” was inspired by Oates’s experiences visiting the former company town of Wilson (Mississippi County). John Oates was born in New …

Arkansas Chamber Singers

The Arkansas Chamber Singers (ACS) is vocal ensemble dedicated to performing and promoting classical and contemporary choral repertoire. Membership in the nonprofit group is by audition. The ACS began when Bill Clinton, elected as the state’s governor in 1978, appointed Massachusetts resident Paul Levy to head the Arkansas Department of Energy. Levy’s wife was Barbara Abramoff Levy, director of the Newton Choral Society and the conducting assistant to the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, an adjunct to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She wanted to continue her involvement in music, and in 1979, with the support of the Bill and Hillary Clinton, she joined the faculty of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) and organized a new chamber ensemble named the …

Arkansas River Blues Society

The Arkansas River Blues Society (ARBS), based in Little Rock (Pulaski County), began its life as the Arkansas Blues Connection (ABC) in June 1984 as Arkansas’s first chapter of the National Blues Foundation. Based in Memphis, Tennessee, the National Blues Foundation seeks to “preserve blues heritage, celebrate blues recording and performance, expand worldwide awareness of the blues, and ensure the future of the uniquely American art form.” The Arkansas River Blues Society seeks to preserve the legacy of Arkansas blues and to provide a place for budding musicians to keep the blues alive. What became the Arkansas River Blues Society began in a Little Rock blues club. A group of local blues enthusiasts—including John Craig, Steve Logan, Jeff Weeden, and …

Arkansas Symphony Orchestra

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, based in Little Rock (Pulaski County), provides opportunities for the residents of the state to hear and to perform quality instrumental music. The current orchestra, which incorporated in 1966, is the successor of several previous and shorter-lived attempts to create a sustainable performing group. Most reports of musical performances in early Arkansas history are of vocal performances, brass ensembles, concerts by amateur groups, recitals by pupils of individual teachers, or church-sponsored events. No regularly performing instrumental groups available for public enjoyment appear in reports until after the turn of the twentieth century. During the early years of 1900s, music clubs over the state, as well as individual music lovers, became vocal about the desirability of musical education for …

Arkansas Waltz

In 1917, the Arkansas General Assembly designated “Arkansas,” a patriotic anthem composed by Eva Ware Barnett, as the state’s first official song. It remained as such until the late 1940s, when a copyright dispute led to the state’s adoption of “The Arkansas Traveler” as the state’s musical symbol. In 1963, the dispute was settled amicably, and “Arkansas” resumed its former place as the state song—a title it would hold until the late 1980s. “Arkansas” was not, however, without its challengers during this second tenure. One challenger managed to garner a degree of legislative recognition: in 1971, the Arkansas State Senate voted to designate “Arkansas Waltz” by Bill Urfer of Heber Springs (Cleburne County) and Cletus “Slim” Jones of Benton (Saline …

Ashley, Hubert Carl (Hugh)

Hubert Carl (Hugh) Ashley lived a life revolving around country and western music and public service. He wrote and recorded some of the earliest known recordings of Ozark folk music, was one of radio’s original “Beverly Hill Billies,” and wrote songs for five members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Hugh Ashley was born on September 27, 1915, near Wiley’s Cove (Searcy County). He was the first of four boys born to Hobart Ashley and Lillie Holsted Ashley. Music was a part of Ashley’s life from an early age. At seven, he rode a mule five miles from Sulphur Springs (Searcy County) to Leslie (Searcy County) for his first piano lesson, and at thirteen, he joined his father’s musical …

Band Museum

The Band Museum in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) housed an extensive collection of wind instruments and offered a history of the American band movement. Beginning as the personal collection of its founder, the museum grew to approximately 1,500 antique instruments and was, before its closure, the only museum in the United States devoted entirely to the history of band music and instruments. Jerry Horne, founder of the Band Museum and a member of the American Musical Instrument Society, began collecting unusual instruments when he purchased the Wallick Music Company in 1970. His first was an old helicon (similar to a sousaphone), made by the C. G. CONN Company in 1925, which he found in the Wallick family’s garage. Soon, he began scouring …

Barnes, Bruce “Sunpie”

Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes is a musician, writer, naturalist, park ranger, ethnographic photographer, and actor from Saline County. He also played for National Football League (NFL) for a time. Along with his band, the Louisiana Sunspots, Barnes pioneered a unique mixture of zydeco (a créole musical style originating in Louisiana), blues, gospel, jazz, and African and Afro-Caribbean music into a musical gumbo that he dubbed “Afro-Louisiana” music. Barnes plays accordion, harmonica, piano, trombone, rub board, and various other instruments. Bruce Barnes was born on May 18, 1963, in Benton (Saline County). The tenth of eleventh children, (five whole and five half siblings), Barnes grew up in what is now Benton’s Ralph Bunche community. Barnes’s parents were sharecroppers who worked on various …

Bartlett, E. M.

aka: Eugene Monroe Bartlett Sr.
With the exception of his protégé, Albert E. Brumley, no other Arkansas figure contributed more to the development of the Southern gospel music genre than singer, songwriter, and publisher Eugene Monroe Bartlett Sr. E. M. Bartlett was born on December 24, 1883, in the small community of Waynesville, Missouri, according to Barlett’s World War I draft card, though historians have variously placed his year of birth in 1884 and 1885. He and his parents eventually relocated to Sebastian County, Arkansas. Educated at the Hall-Moody Institute in Martin, Tennessee, and William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, Bartlett received training as a music teacher. In 1917, Bartlett married Joan Tatum; they had two children. As an aspiring songwriter, Bartlett became an employee …

Bazooka [Musical Instrument]

Although today it is more commonly applied to the anti-tank weapon widely used during World War II, or to a product of Topps Chewing Gum, the name “bazooka” was originally given to a novelty wind instrument created by native Arkansan radio and film personality Bob Burns. Spanning the musical gap between a trombone and a slide whistle, the bazooka produces a narrow range of notes with a tone that is more comical than dulcet. Burns developed the bazooka one evening, as early as 1905, during band practice at Hayman’s Plumbing Shop in Van Buren (Crawford County). Burns blew into a gas pipe that made a noise described as sounding like a “wounded moose.” Inspired by this, he developed a new …

Beatles, Stopover of the

In 1964, the world’s most popular music group, the Beatles, visited the Lawrence County town of Walnut Ridge. Though brief, their visit left a lasting impact on the community and has recently been the subject of a documentary movie. That year, the popularity of the Beatles was without rival. George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr were mobbed by teenage fans at each public appearance. The Fab Four, as they were dubbed, had five singles in the top five slots on the Billboard charts. Their first film, A Hard Day’s Night, appeared in 500 U.S. theaters. The group’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show drew an estimated seventy-three million viewers. In their legendary 1964 concert tour, they …

Bell, Al

aka: Alvertis Isbell
Al Bell is considered the driving force behind Stax Records as a producer, songwriter, and executive during the company’s most productive period, from 1965 to 1975. He was responsible for promoting the careers of such talent as the Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, and Otis Redding, among many others. Al Bell was born Alvertis Isbell on March 15, 1940, in Brinkley (Monroe County). One of his earliest musical memories was that of listening to his father’s Louis Jordan records. In an interview published in 2001, Bell claimed Jordan, also a Brinkley native, as a distant relative. Bell’s family moved to North Little Rock (Pulaski County) when he was five years old. After attending Catholic and Seventh-Day Adventist private schools, Bell attended Scipio A. …

Bennett, Alvin Silas (Al)

Alvin Silas (Al) Bennett was a recording industry executive best known for his tenure as president and director of Liberty Records from 1958 to 1968. Known as a “music business wizard,” Bennett is largely credited with the transformation of Liberty Records from a struggling start-up operation to a dominant force in the recording trade. “Alvin” of Alvin and the Chipmunks was named after Bennett. Al Bennett was born in Joiner (Mississippi County) on September 21, 1926, to the farming family of Silas S. Bennett and Jessie Starling Bennett. The oldest of four children, he spent his early years working on the farm while attending Shawnee School, graduating in 1943. Bennett enlisted in the U.S. Army on November 5, 1945, for …

Black Oak Arkansas

Black Oak Arkansas, a popular rock and roll band of the 1970s from rural Arkansas near Black Oak (Craighead County), was the first Arkansas rock band to have significant commercial success. Originally called the Knowbody Else, the band was formed in 1965 by singer James “Jim Dandy” Mangrum from Black Oak and guitarist Ricky Reynolds from Manila (Mississippi County). The band was signed to Stax Records and released an album, The Knowbody Else, on Enterprise, a Stax subsidiary, as well as Early Times, which was released on Stax. Despite the failure of these albums, the band continued touring the nation and was “discovered” in California by Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records, who signed the band in 1970. They changed their …

Blues Music

The origins of the blues are murky, but the state of Arkansas seems to have hosted the music and its creators since its beginnings in North America and helped spread it worldwide. Blues is acknowledged as the root from which sprang jazz, rhythm and blues (R&B), rock and roll, and hip-hop; in addition, it has informed the genres of country and western, gospel, and bluegrass. Blues and its offspring have long since crossed the globe, but its standard-bearers are largely confined to the Mississippi River Delta, especially eastern Arkansas and western Mississippi. Emerging in part from call-and-response “field hollers” dating from the slavery era, blues had practitioners originally belonging to many different groups with their own musical styles. Most scholars believe …

Boston, Gretha Denise

Gretha Denise Boston is a celebrated mezzo-soprano and Tony Award–winning actress. She made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1991 in Mozart’s Coronation Mass and won the 1995 Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as Queenie in the Broadway revival of Show Boat; she was the first Arkansan to be so honored. The same role earned Boston the Theatre World Award as Outstanding Debut Artist. She was also nominated for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Non-Resident Production for the 2000–01 season at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC for her performance in It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues. Gretha Boston was born in Crossett (Ashley County) on April 18, 1959, the …

Britt, Elton

aka: James Elton Baker
Elton Britt was a popular country singer of the 1940s, with a yodeling style most often compared to Jimmie Rodgers. His most popular song, “There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere,” was the first country performance awarded a gold record for selling more than a million copies. Britt also was a heavy influence on most subsequent yodelers in country music. James Elton Baker was born on June 27, 1913, to James M. Baker and Martella Baker in Zack (Searcy County), a small community in the Ozarks. He was the youngest of five children and was plagued with heart trouble most of his life. Because he was not expected to live, his parents did not name him until he was a …

Brockwell Gospel Music School

The Brockwell Gospel Music School offers instruction in choral and instrumental musical techniques for those who desire the improvement of church music. It operates every summer on a small campus in Brockwell (Izard County) at the intersection of State Highways 9 and 56. It was founded in 1947 as the Brockwell Music School, assumed its present name in 1962, and operates at its original site. The singing-school tradition goes back to the time of the Second Great Awakening on the American frontier in the first years of the nineteenth century. This tradition contributed significantly to the growth and power of the great revivals that especially captivated gospel-hungry settlers in the frontier South in the first third of the century. Itinerant …

Broonzy, “Big Bill”

aka: William Conley Lee Broonzy
Although William Lee Conley “Big Bill” Broonzy achieved fame and success in the Chicago blues scene and the folk revival in the United States and abroad, some of his earliest encounters with the blues and his earliest experiences as a performer and songwriter were in Arkansas. Sources differ as to the date and place of Big Bill Broonzy’s birth. Broonzy himself claimed to have been born in Scott, Mississippi, on June 26, 1893 (though some sources say 1898). However, more recent research has him born near Lake Dick, Arkansas, on June 29, 1903, with the name Lee Conley Bradley. His parents were Frank Broonzy (Bradley) and Mittie Belcher, and he was one of seventeen children. Broonzy spent most of his …

Brown, Jim Ed

Country and western music star Jim Ed Brown’s career spanned more than half a century since the early 1950s. He was a solo vocalist and a member of two singing groups: the Browns and a duo consisting of himself and singer Helen Cornelius. He performed on numerous radio and television programs, hosting some and starring on others, and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. James Edward Brown was born in Sparkman (Dallas County) on April 1, 1934, to Floyd and Birdie Brown; he had two sisters. He grew up in the timber country near Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), and his father hauled logs for a living and was also a farmer. Brown formed a musical duo with his …

Browns, The

A vocal trio from southern Arkansas, the Browns had several country hits. They were also instrumental in the development of the elegant, often orchestral “Nashville sound,” which replaced the string bands of earlier eras. The Browns began as a duo featuring Jim Ed Brown, born in 1934 in Sparkman (Dallas County), and his sister Maxine, born in Campti, Louisiana, in 1931. Their sister Bonnie, born in Sparkman in 1938, joined the group in 1955. The Browns grew up in the piney woods near Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), where their father, Floyd Brown, worked as a log hauler and farmer. The group began its recording career for Fabor Records in southern California shortly after Jim Ed and Maxine graduated from high …

Brumley, Albert Edward

Albert Edward Brumley Sr. was one of the most successful American gospel song composers of the twentieth century, penning such standards as “I’ll Fly Away,” “I’ll Meet You in the Morning,” “If We Never Meet Again,” “Turn Your Radio On,” and many others. Between 1926 and 1931, he studied, lived, and worked at the Hartford Music Company in Hartford (Sebastian County) under the tutelage of its founder, Eugene Monroe (E. M.) Bartlett. Although Bartlett died in 1941, Brumley forever credited him as the chief mentor and inspiration behind his music and eventually purchased the Hartford Music Company in 1948. Albert E. Brumley was born on October 29, 1905, in Indian Territory near present-day Spiro, Oklahoma. His parents, William Sherman Brumley …

Buchanan, Roy

aka: Leroy Buchanan
Leroy (Roy) Buchanan was a guitar innovator whose skill inspired an aptly titled documentary, The Best Unknown Guitarist in the World. For more than thirty years, the guitarist melded blues, country, jazz, and rock music into a unique sound. Roy Buchanan was born September 23, 1939, in Ozark (Franklin County), the third of four children born to Bill Buchanan and Minnie Bell Reed Buchanan. When he was two, the family moved to Pixley, California, a tiny San Joaquin Valley farming town, where his father was a farm laborer. At age five, Buchanan learned a few guitar chords. When he was nine, his father bought him a red Rickenbacker lap steel guitar, and, by age twelve, he was playing lap steel …

Bunch, William

aka: Peetie Wheatstraw
William Bunch, known as “Peetie Wheatstraw,” was raised in Cotton Plant (Woodruff County) and became one of the most popular and widely imitated bluesman of the 1930s and 1940s. He was an incredibly successful pianist, recording more than 160 songs between 1930 and his death in 1941. William Bunch was born on December 21, 1902, in Ripley, Tennessee, although some accounts list Bunch’s birthplace as Arkansas. Bluesman Big Joe Williams, who recorded with Bunch, stated: “Peetie come from Cotton Plant, Arkansas.” Bunch’s family was living in Cotton Plant soon after his birth. Cotton Plant was a local cultural center in the early 1900s, and Bunch began playing both piano and guitar there at a young age. Around 1920, all members …

Burgess, Sonny

aka: Albert Austin Burgess
Albert Austin “Sonny” Burgess was best known as one of the original rock and roll recording artists for Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, and as one of the pioneers of rock and roll. He and his band, the Pacers, made a hit of his first recording, “Red Headed Woman,” and the flip side, “We Wanna Boogie,” both of which Burgess wrote. The record sold approximately 100,000 copies, a phenomenal number for that era. Burgess and the Pacers performed at various events in the United States and Europe until his death in 2017. Sonny Burgess was born on May 31, 1929, in Newport (Jackson County). His parents, Albert and Esta Burgess, raised him, his two brothers, and his three sisters on …

Caldwell, Sarah

A member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame, Sarah Caldwell was an internationally recognized American opera director, conductor, producer, and impresario. She was known for emphasizing the dramatic elements of opera in her productions with innovative stagings that often included spectacular visual effects. She also was known for performing and staging obscure operas that were performed only rarely because of their difficulty. Sarah Caldwell was born on March 6, 1924, in Maryville, Missouri, but grew up in Fayetteville (Washington County). Her parents divorced when she was young, and her mother—piano teacher Margaret Carrie Caldwell Baker—later married Henry Alexander, who taught political science at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville. Recognized as a child prodigy, she was performing in public on violin …

Caldwell, Walter Garnett “Punky”

Walter Garnett “Punky” Caldwell was a musician who caught the attention of some of the best performers of the rockabilly and early rock and roll era, such as Sonny Burgess and Elvis Presley. Caldwell was known for his accomplishments on saxophone and clarinet. Notably, in the late 1950s, Caldwell played in a racially integrated band. Soon after his career took off, he left Arkansas and toured the United States and Asia. Punky Caldwell was born on October 31, 1929, in Searcy (White County), the son of Arkansas native Charles Eric Caldwell and Kansas native Thelma L. Alexander Caldwell. Caldwell was large from the start (he was more than 300 pounds as an adult), weighing nearly thirteen pounds as a newborn. …

Camp, Shawn

aka: Darrel DeShawn Camp
Shawn Camp is a singer, musician, songwriter, and record producer based in Nashville, Tennessee. His musical styles include bluegrass, country, and Americana. Shawn Camp was born Darrel DeShawn Camp on August 29, 1966, to Darrell Camp, who was an iron worker, and Betty Dickens Camp, a beautician. He was raised in Perryville (Perry County) until 1982, when his family moved to Bryant (Saline County), where he graduated from high school in 1984. His parents’ home was a gathering place for local musicians, and the family also attended bluegrass festivals, where jam sessions with young and old “pickers” were a regular occurrence. Camp started learning to play guitar at age five, mandolin at seven, and fiddle at fifteen. While he was …

Campbell, Glen

aka: Glen Travis Campbell
Glen Travis Campbell was a commercially successful and critically acclaimed entertainer whose career lasted more than fifty years. As a guitarist, Campbell appeared on recordings by a diverse range of artists, including Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. As a singer and solo artist, Campbell sold millions of recordings and earned many awards. He also starred in films and hosted his own television programs. Glen Campbell was born on April 22, 1936, in the Billstown community, near Delight (Pike County). He was one of twelve children born to the farming family of Carrie Dell Stone Campbell and John Wesley Campbell. Many of his relatives were musicians, and young Campbell soon developed an interest in singing and playing. He received his first …

Carter, William Neal (Bill)

Bill Carter is a lawyer, former Secret Service agent, music manager and promoter, and author. He is best known for being the Rolling Stones’ lawyer who facilitated the release of two band members from custody when they were arrested in 1975 while traveling through Fordyce (Dallas County). Carter has also managed country singers Tanya Tucker and Reba McEntire. In 2013, Carter was added to the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame. William Neal (Bill) Carter was born on January 19, 1936, in Rector (Clay County) to Henry Gaston Carter and Essie Faye Richardson Carter. Carter’s father was a farmer, and the family had little money when he was growing up. Carter spent time in the cotton fields as a youth and …

Cash, Johnny

aka: J. R. Cash
Johnny Cash was a world-renowned singer/songwriter of country music. With his deep, rich voice and often dark, often uplifting lyrics, he created a body of work that will be heard and remembered for generations to come. J. R. Cash was born on February 26, 1932, in Kingsland (Cleveland County) to Ray and Carrie Cash. He had six siblings: Roy, Louise, Jack, Reba, Joanne, and Tommy. In 1935, the family moved to Dyess (Mississippi County), where they lived modestly and worked the land. The tragic death of Jack Cash in a 1944 sawmill accident haunted young J. R. for the remainder of his life. His mother introduced him to the guitar, and the local Church of God introduced him to music. …

Cash, Tommy

Tommy Cash is a musician and the younger brother of country music legend Johnny Cash. Although he was raised in Arkansas, he got his musical start in Tennessee—first in Memphis and later as part of the Nashville establishment. Often employing the familiar country music themes of Christianity, the blue-collar lifestyle, and patriotism, he has had numerous hit albums and songs throughout his career, among them the singles “Six White Horses,” “Rise and Shine,” and “One Song Away.” He continues to play music and give interviews about his career and life in the Cash family. Tommy Cash was born on April 5, 1940, in Dyess (Mississippi County) to Ray and Carrie Cash, both of whom were Arkansas natives; he was the youngest …

Cate Brothers Band

The Cate Brothers, identical twins Earl and Ernie (born Ernest), once exemplified the country-style rock and roll that flourished in the Ozark Mountains area of northwestern Arkansas, before adding rhythm and blues (R&B), soul, and funk to their approach in a distinctly unpretentious way. The Cates were born in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1942 and grew up in Springdale (Washington and Benton counties). Although not born to a musical family, the Cates taught themselves how to play their instruments and were heavily influenced during their teenage years by Ronnie Hawkins, whose ever-changing band, the Hawks, was at that time composed of the personnel who eventually became famous as Bob Dylan’s backup ensemble, the Band: pianist Richard Manuel, keyboardist Garth Hudson, …

Cates, Opal Taft (Opie)

Opie Cates was a popular bandleader, musician, and radio personality, known as one of the great clarinetists of the swing era (mid-1930s–mid-1940s). He was a familiar presence on radio in the 1940s, at one time appearing weekly on four different shows. By Cates’s own reckoning, his audience numbered over thirty-five million listeners. Some believe that the character of Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show was named after Opie Cates. Opal Taft Cates was born on October 10, 1909, in Clinton (Van Buren County). His parents, Abb Cates and Sarah Jacobs Cates, were farmers. Abb Cates died in 1914, Sarah Cates married Lee Andrew Reaves (or Reeves) in 1916. The blended family, which included several Reaves step-siblings and a younger …

Classical Music and Opera

Although Arkansas is generally better known for its blues, gospel, folk, country, and rock and roll performers, classical and opera music have deep roots in Arkansas history and culture, often appearing in interesting ways in unusual places. Internationally famous Arkansan composers of classical music include Scott Joplin, Florence Beatrice Smith Price, William Grant Still, and Conlon Nancarrow. Sarah Caldwell, who grew up in Fayetteville (Washington County), was a longtime opera director in Boston, Massachusetts, and the first woman to conduct an opera at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Arkansas has been home to opera singers Mary Lewis, Barbara Hendricks, Susan Dunn, Marjorie Lawrence, Mary McCormic, Robert McFerrin Sr., and William Warfield. Classical music figures prominently in academic music degree …

Cotton, Carolina

aka: Helen Hagstrom
Helen Hagstrom is best known for her country and western swing music and yodeling, as well as her appearances in numerous television specials, radio programs, and films under the name of Carolina Cotton. Nicknamed “The Yodeling Blonde Bombshell,” Hagstrom was an entertainer and teacher throughout her life. Helen Hagstrom was born on October 20, 1925, in Cash (Craighead County), where her parents, Fred and Helen Hagstrom, and maternal grandparents had a farm, growing many crops, including cotton and peanuts. During the Great Depression, Hagstrom’s father moved his wife and two daughters to San Francisco, California. Hagstrom began performing in traveling stage shows with the O’Neille Sisters Kiddie Revue. Then, after regularly visiting KYA Radio to watch Dude Martin’s Roundup Gang …

Country Music

While the precise origins of country and western music are not entirely clear, it is thought to have its roots in traditional folk music of the British Isles. Once this particular sound was brought by British immigrants to the United States, country music began to change as it was blended with the music of immigrants from other places, as well as with traditional religious hymns and the music of African slaves predominantly residing in the southern United States. Arkansas has had a firm place in the history of country music from its very beginnings in the United States, and the state has been the birthplace of many well-known country artists, as well as particular style variations of country music. While …

Cramer, Floyd

Pianist Floyd Cramer was one of the creators of what became known as the “Nashville sound,” a style often seen as a forerunner of the slick, upscale pop/rock that emerged in Nashville, Tennessee, in the 1990s. Cramer released fifty solo albums, had a classic hit in the song “Last Date” in 1960, and accompanied Elvis Presley on such rock and roll hits as “Heartbreak Hotel.” He was a longtime friend of producer and guitar virtuoso Chet Atkins and performed with other music luminaries, including Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold, the Everly Brothers, Perry Como, and Roy Orbison. In the 1980s, he recorded a hit version of the theme from the Dallas TV series. Born on October 27, 1933, in Campti, Louisiana, …

Crumpler, Denver Dale

When singer Denver Dale Crumpler became a member of Hovie Lister and the Statesmen Quartet of Atlanta, Georgia, in 1953, his Irish tenor voice completed what many experts in the Southern gospel music field have termed “The Perfect Quartet.” By then, the Statesmen had formed a team with the famed Blackwood Brothers Quartet of Memphis, Tennessee, and were performing 250–300 concerts per year across the United States. Shortly after Crumpler’s arrival, the Statesmen signed a recording contract with RCA-Victor, as well as a contract with Nabisco as the sponsor of a syndicated television show eventually to be seen on about 150 television stations around the nation. Denver Dale Crumpler was born on August 17, 1912, in Village (Columbia County), near …

Davis, Ellis CeDell

Ellis CeDell Davis was a blues musician and recording artist who helped bring blues from its rural Southern roots into the twenty-first century. He employed a unique slide guitar style and performed the traditional Delta blues he learned growing up in and around Helena (Phillips County). Although he was a longtime professional musician, recordings of his music were not available until 1983. In the late twentieth century, he recorded several albums and became a favorite with a new generation of blues fans. CeDell Davis was born on June 9, 1926, in Helena, where his mother worked as a cook but was also known as a faith healer. At age four, Davis went to live with relatives on the E. M. …

Deckelman, Gene Darrell “Bud”

Gene Darrell “Bud” Deckelman was a country and rockabilly musician who had brief success in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1950s. His most popular recording was “Daydreamin’,” which was issued on the Meteor record label in Memphis. While his output was relatively small, he toured with artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Wanda Jackson. Bud Deckelman was born in Harrisburg (Poinsett County) on April 2, 1927, to Louisiana native George Deckelman (1904–1984) and Arkansas native Lillian Agnes Ellezy Deckelman (1906–1999). He grew up in a poor farming family and with limited education in Scott (Poinsett County). He had four sisters and three brothers. According to the 1940 census, his father owned the family’s house, but it was valued at …

Deckelman, Joseph Dewitt “Sonny”

Joseph Dewitt “Sonny” Deckelman was a musician, songwriter, and record label owner active in the Memphis, Tennessee, and northeastern Arkansas rockabilly scene in the late 1950s and 1960s. While his artistic output was modest, his recordings were well received and have maintained a small but enthusiastic following. He is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Sonny Deckelman was born in Harrisburg (Poinsett County) on September 1, 1933. He was the son of Joe V. Deckelman and Nell Ellzey Deckelman, both natives of Arkansas. His father was a farmer and mechanic, and his mother was a housewife. Deckelman came from a poor family; the census of 1940 shows his father earning no income. He was the youngest of four …

Delray, Martin

aka: Michael Ray Martin
American country music artist Michael Ray Martin (known professionally as Martin Delray) is best known for his 1991 cover of the Johnny Cash song “Get Rhythm.” Michael Ray Martin was born on September 29, 1949, in Texarkana (Miller County). After graduating from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1972 with a BA in English, he served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. After he left military service at the rank of private first class, Martin relocated to North Hollywood, California, and began playing the West Coast club circuit, opening for such acts as Doug Kershaw and Juice Newton. Martin eventually became a staff songwriter at a music publishing company owned by Seals and Crofts. One …

DeMent, Iris 

Arkansas native Iris DeMent has used her distinctive voice to sing folk, country, bluegrass, and gospel music. She has written songs about family, religion, people, places, and political ideas in a time when few were doing so. Iris DeMent was born on January 5, 1961, in Paragould (Greene County), the youngest of fourteen children. Her parents, Patrick Shaw and Flora Mae DeMent, were farmers on an island in the St. Francis River outside Paragould. When Iris was three, her father lost his factory job after a failed attempt to unionize, and the family hit hard times, sold the farm, and moved to Buena Park, California. They lived there until she was seventeen and then moved to Sacramento, California. Eventually, her …

Diamond State Chorus

The Diamond State Chorus is the performance group of the Greater Little Rock Chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. (SPEBSQSA). The international men’s singing group, also known as the Barbershop Harmony Society, has more than 34,000 members. It was founded on April 11, 1938, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The local chapter is a grandchild of the Memphis, Tennessee, chapter. In 1952, seven barbershoppers from Memphis went to Stuttgart (Arkansas County) to start a chapter. The subsequent Grand Prairie Chorus attracted the attention of a quartet from Little Rock (Pulaski County)—The Four Specs—which made the 120-mile round trip to Stuttgart for a couple of years before deciding to form a chapter …

Ditto, Beth

aka: Mary Beth Patterson
White County native Beth Ditto is the singer and songwriter for Gossip, an indie, dance-punk band based in Portland, Oregon. Ditto is also known for being a model and fashion designer who promotes positive body image, as well as for her outspoken support of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights. In 2006, she became the first woman voted “Coolest Person in Rock” by NME, a long-running British music magazine. She also released her first solo album in 2017. Beth Ditto was born Mary Beth Patterson on February 19, 1981. She was raised by a single mother, Velmyra Estel, and grew up in Judsonia (White County), near Searcy (White County); she did not know her father and was given the last name …

Dodd, Bonnie Modena

aka: Little Blossom
Arkansas native Bonnie Dodd (a.k.a. “Little Blossom”) was a musician and songwriter best known as a steel guitar player in Tex Ritter’s country and western band during the 1940s. She also was a prolific composer of traditional country songs such as the genre-spanning recitation “Be Careful of Stones That You Throw,” which was recorded by Hank Williams in 1952 and by many others. The Staple Singers’ version of the song is included on the soundtrack of the film Bastard out of Carolina (1996). Bonnie Modena Dodd was born in rural Saline County on January 9, 1914. She was the fourth and youngest child of Elmer Pemberton Dodd and Louanna Iona Tillery Dodd. At the time of her birth, her family …

Dorough, Bob

Robert Lrod Dorough was a composer, lyricist, and musician best known for his jazz compositions and 1970s Schoolhouse Rock! shorts on ABC Saturday morning television. Bob Dorough was born on December 12, 1923, in Cherry Hill (Polk County), the oldest of four children of Robert Lee Dorough, who was an automobile and insurance salesman, and Alma Audrey Lewis, a housewife and Singer sewing machine instructor. Dorough’s unusual middle name was suggested by his aunt. He attended elementary schools in De Queen (Sevier County), Mena (Polk County), and Texarkana (Miller County) and graduated from Plainview High School in Plainview, Texas, where the family moved in 1934. The Plainview High School bandmaster inspired Dorough musically and gave him free lessons in harmony and …