Entry Category: Music - Starting with S

Sanders, Pharoah

Pharoah Sanders is a noted jazz saxophonist who is recognized as a pioneer of the “free jazz” movement. Collaborations with artists such as Sun Ra and John Coltrane remain his most noted work, but his solo efforts stretch over five decades from 1964 to the present. Pharoah Sanders was born Ferrell Sanders on October 13, 1940, in Little Rock (Pulaski County). His mother worked as a cook in a school cafeteria, and his father worked for the City of Little Rock. An only child, Sanders began his musical career accompanying church hymns on clarinet. His initial artistic accomplishments were in art, and it was not until he was at Scipio Jones High School in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) that Sanders …

Saunders, Michael Earl (Mike)

aka: "Metal Mike"
Little Rock (Pulaski County) native Michael Earl Saunders is the lead singer and guitarist of the Angry Samoans, a California-based band that formed in 1978 out of the first wave of American punk music. Saunders, a music journalist in earlier years, was also the first to use the term “heavy metal” to describe the musical genre. Mike Saunders (a.k.a. Metal Mike) was born on May 1, 1952, to Earl L. Saunders Jr., who was an architectural photographer, and Jean Cox Saunders, who was an office manager for Burns Security in Little Rock. He has one younger sibling. Saunders attended Hall High School in Little Rock, where he played trombone in the marching band. His first album review was published in …

Scott, Cynthia

Cynthia Scott is a Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist known for her work as one of Ray Charles’s “Raelettes” and for her subsequent solo career. She was named Jazz Ambassador for the U.S. Department of State in 2004 and was Wynton Marsalis’s choice for the first person to give a concert in the Lincoln Center’s Rose Room. She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2016. Cynthia Scott was born on July 20, 1951 (some sources say 1952), to the Reverend Sam Scott and Artelia Scott in El Dorado (Union County), the tenth of twelve children—six boys and six girls. She began singing at age four in her father’s church but exposed her ear to secular music by sneaking …

Seals, Frank “Son”

Frank “Son” Seals was a singer who became a driving force behind a brief but stormy rejuvenation of the blues throughout the mid- to late 1970s. For three decades, he dominated the Chicago blues as no one has since. Son Seals was born on August 13, 1942, in Osceola (Mississippi County). His father was musician Jim “Son” Seals. He acquired the nickname “Son” while a child in Osceola. Seals came to the blues early. He grew up in a juke joint operated by his father, who had been a member of the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. Juke joint the Dipsey Doodle featured some of the greatest of all blues performers, including Albert King, Robert Nighthawk, and Sonny Boy Williamson. The Dipsey Doodle …

Shape-Note Singing

Shape-note singing is a choral tradition in which geometrical shapes and a corresponding syllable are assigned to each note in a musical scale. The tradition began in late eighteenth-century New England, and it is one of the earliest forms of distinctly American music. In Arkansas, shape notes are found in multiple singing traditions, including both the four- and seven-note methods. This type of singing also had a social role in rural communities in Arkansas, which often held all-day events featuring shape-note singing. Shape-note singing is largely used for religious music, although it does occasionally appear in secular music. Conventional shape-note singing preserves elements of earlier European music, such as basic harmony, melodies, and performance practices. Shape notes were developed in …

Shead, Henry Wallace, Sr.

aka: Henry Shed
Henry Wallace Shead Sr. (a.k.a. Henry Shed) was a pianist, vocalist, composer, recording artist, actor, choral director, and teacher. He grew up playing and singing in his father’s church, and by the time he had finished college, he had developed the singing and piano-playing styles for which he became famous. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame in 2018. Henry Wallace Shead was born in Fordyce (Dallas County) on March 31, 1941, the third of five children born to the Reverend Henry Arthur Shead and Willie Labehel Reed Shead. He was raised in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and was introduced to the piano at the age of six …

Shelton, Louie

Millions of people have heard Louie Shelton’s smooth guitar-playing on hit records and albums without knowing who he was. Since the 1960s, he has worked as a session guitarist or a producer for Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, John Lennon, Lionel Richie, Boz Scaggs, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson Five, Seals and Crofts, Marvin Gaye, and many other famous pop, rock, and jazz musicians. William Louis Shelton was born on April 6, 1941, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) but grew up in the Levy neighborhood of North Little Rock (Pulaski County). He was the youngest child and only son of five children born to William Lewis Shelton and Carrie Lois Middleton Shelton. His mother was a housewife, and his father was in …

Shibley, Jesse Lee “Arkie”

Jesse Lee “Arkie” Shibley was a country singer best known for recording the original version of “Hot Rod Race” in 1950. The song is included in the book What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record? as one of fifty recordings that were influential in the origination of rock and roll. According to authors Jim Dawson and Steve Propes, its importance lies in the fact that “it introduced automobile racing into popular music and underscored the car’s relevance to American culture, particularly youth culture.” Jesse Lee Shibley was born on September 21, 1914, in Van Buren (Crawford County) to David M. and Prudie Shibley, both farmers. He was a cattle farmer himself and, on November 25, 1935, married Evelyn Marie …

Smith, Norman Eugene

Norman Eugene Smith was a classically trained pianist and musicologist from Benton (Saline County). He spent most of his career as a professor of music at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, specializing in the study of early polyphonic (multiple melody) music and classical piano. His scholarly works focused on musical theory, particularly in music from the twelfth century. Norman Eugene Smith was born on November 4, 1931, the second son of Fred C. Smith and Ocie Clara Bryant Smith in Benton. As a young man, he began playing the piano. His teacher, Lorene Carson Houston, composed the Benton High School alma mater. Smith quickly became her protégé. As a member of Houston’s Junior Music Club at Benton Junior High, …

Smith, Ocie Lee (O. C.), Jr.

Ocie Lee (O. C.) Smith Jr. started out singing jazz before moving into the genres of country and rhythm & blues/soul. After touring with Count Basie’s band in the early 1960s, he had his biggest hit with the song “Little Green Apples,” which reached number two on the pop and R&B charts in 1968. In the 1980s, he put aside his career as a recording artist to become a minister. Smith was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1996. O. C. Smith was born in Mansfield, Louisiana, on June 21, 1936 (although some sources say 1932). His parents, Ocie Lee Smith Sr. and Ruth Edwards Shorter Smith, who were both teachers, moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) …

Stackhouse, Houston

aka: Houston Goff
Houston Stackhouse never achieved much in the way of success, yet he was a pivotal figure on the southern blues scene from the 1930s through the 1960s, having worked with numerous significant blues musicians during that period, mentoring more than a few. He was a familiar figure in the small country juke joints, mainly in Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee, and was highly respected among his fellow musicians. He also achieved a measure of regional fame as a member of the King Biscuit Boys who played on station KFFA out of Helena, present-day Helena-West Helena (Phillips County). When he finally made his first recordings in 1967, he was still a working musician, taking jobs within a 150-mile radius of his home …

State of Arkansaw, The

The ballad, or narrative folksong, usually titled “The State of Arkansaw” has been a principal exhibit in Arkansas’s recurrent laments about its disreputable image. It is a clear example of the expressive culture of the late nineteenth century that depicted Arkansas pejoratively. The story, which the ballad relates in first person, has its protagonist—known by several names, including “Sanford Barnes” and “John Johanna”—leave his home, most frequently “Buffalo town” or “Nobleville town,” to seek employment. He hears of job opportunities in Arkansas, sets out by railway, and arrives in an Arkansas community, variously identified as Fort Smith (Sebastian County), Van Buren (Crawford County), Little Rock (Pulaski County), or Hot Springs (Garland County). There he meets a “walking skeleton” who conducts …

Still, William Grant

William Grant Still grew up in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and achieved national and international acclaim as a composer of symphonic and popular music. As an African American, he broke race barriers and opened opportunities for other minorities. He was strong advocate for the performance of works by American composers. William Grant Still was born on May 11, 1895, in Woodville, Mississippi, the only son of William Grant Still Sr. and Carrie Lena Fambro Still. Still’s mother moved to Little Rock with her infant son shortly after the death of her husband in 1895. Still and his mother lived with his grandmother, and his mother worked as a teacher. In 1904, Still’s mother married a railway postal clerk, Charles Benjamin …

Stilley, Edward Lawrence (Ed)

Edward Lawrence (Ed) Stilley was a farmer and instrument maker from Hogscald Hollow (Carroll County). In 1979, according to Stilley, he received a directive from God to make and give away musical instruments to children. Without any prior knowledge of instrument making, he created and gave away over 200 instruments, only stopping in 2004 when his hands could no longer do the work required to build them. Ed Stilley was born on July 27, 1930, in Carroll County, the third child of six. His parents were William Stilley, who worked at a sawmill, and Sarah Parker Stilley. Stilley was partially raised by a longtime resident of Hogscald, Anna Frances “Fannie” Prickett. Prickett was an elderly woman who lived alone and …

Stubblefield, John

John Stubblefield was one of the most highly respected jazz saxophonists of his generation. He played with legendary musicians across the jazz spectrum and left a legacy of quality studio work over more than three decades as a bandleader, studio musician, and go-to saxophonist for live performances and tours. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame posthumously in 2007. John Stubblefield was born on February 4, 1945, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), one of two children of John and Mabel Stubblefield. His father served in the U.S. Navy during World War II but was injured and discharged; back in Little Rock, he worked as a laborer, machinist, and painter while passing his love of music along to …

Sullivan, Orean Lencola

Orean Lencola Sullivan of Morrilton (Conway County) broke many color barriers in Arkansas and became a nationally known public figure. She won four scholarship pageants from 1977 to 1980 and was the first African American to win those pageants. She was Miss Morrilton in 1977, Miss University of Central Arkansas in 1978, Miss White River in 1979, and Miss Arkansas in 1980. In September 1980, Sullivan competed in the Miss America Pageant and won the preliminary swimsuit competition. Overall, she was the fourth runner-up in the national pageant, the highest placement achieved by an African-American contestant up to that time. Lencola Sullivan was born on October 29, 1957, to Richard and Macie Sullivan of Morrilton. She was the oldest of …

Sundown to Sunup Gospel Sing

aka: Albert E. Brumley Memorial Gospel Sing
The Sundown to Sunup Gospel Sing, an outdoor gospel music event, was held on the first weekend in August in Springdale (Washington and Benton counties) starting in 1969. During that time, the event was billed as the “largest outdoor gospel sing.” It was later named for its founder, gospel songwriter Albert Edward Brumley of Powell, Missouri, who penned such well-known songs as “I’ll Fly Away” and “Turn Your Radio On.” The idea for the Sundown to Sunup Gospel Sing was conceived after a gospel singing event in Bentonville (Benton County) in 1968. Brumley and his sons, Bill and Bob, worked with Springdale Chamber of Commerce president Lee Zachary to bring the event to Springdale’s Parsons Stadium in 1969. That first year, …

Sykes, Roosevelt “The Honeydripper”

Roosevelt Sykes was a leading blues pianist in the 1930s and is considered by many in the music world to be the father of the modern blues piano style. Sykes’s early musical experiences in Arkansas provided the blues background that served as the foundation for his later recording successes. He was a professional bluesman for more than sixty years, recorded on a dozen different labels, and played in St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; Memphis, Tennessee; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Europe. Roosevelt Sykes was born the son of a musician on January 31, 1906, in the sawmill town of Elmar (Phillips County). By 1909, the Sykes family had moved to St. Louis. However, Sykes often visited his grandfather’s farm near West …