Entries - Entry Category: Music - Starting with B

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 …