Entry Category: Music - Starting with W

Wakely, James Clarence (Jimmy)

Jimmy Wakely, an American country and western singer and actor from the 1930s through the 1950s, made several recordings and appeared in B-western movies with most major studios as a “singing cowboy.” Wakely was one of the last singing cowboys after World War II and also appeared on radio and television; he even had his own series of comic books. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1680 Vine Street. Jimmy Wakely was born James Clarence Wakeley on February 16, 1914, in Mineola (Howard County) to Major Anderson Wakeley, a farmer, and Caroline (or Carolin) “Cali” Burgess Wakeley. As a teenager, he changed “James” to “Jimmy” and dropped the second “e” in his last name, making …

Warfield, William Caesar

William Caesar Warfield was a noted African-American bass-baritone concert artist who had an extensive career that included major roles in two Hollywood films as well as stints on stage and on television. Probably no one ever performed “Ol’ Man River” from Jerome Kern’s Show Boat more times than Warfield, who performed it in several languages. William Warfield was born on January 22, 1920, to Robert Warfield and Bertha McCamery Warfield in West Helena (Phillips County). He spent only a few years in Arkansas; however, because of a strong family background in Arkansas and Mississippi, he described himself as “an Arkansas boy from tip to toe.” His multiracial ancestry included a paternal grandfather who appeared in photographs to be a white man …

Weldon, Casey Bill

Casey Bill Weldon was one of the most talented, yet enigmatic, blues slide guitarists of the early twentieth century. Known as the “Hawaiian Guitar Wizard,” Weldon exhibited a range of material encompassing rag, hokum, and blues, though the majority of his more than 100 recorded songs are considered blues. Though he had a solid body of recordings and played with some well-known performers and bands of his day, much of his life is still shrouded in mystery. Casey Bill Weldon was born on February 2, 1901, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), according to blues legend Big Bill Broonzy; some sources list his birthdate as July 10, 1909. Little is known of his youth, but as a young man he eventually …

Whitman, Essie Barbara

Essie Barbara Whitman was a member of the renowned Whitman Sisters Company. The group of African-American sisters, who were entrepreneurs as well as entertainers, developed their own musical, dance, and comedy performing arts company. From 1901 to 1943, the group performed throughout the United States, becoming the longest-running and highest-paid act on the Theater Owners Booking Association (TOBA) circuit. Essie Whitman was born on July 4, 1882, in Osceola (Mississippi County) to the Reverend Albery Allson Whitman, who was a bishop in the Methodist Church, and Caddie A. Whitman; she was the second of four sisters who included Mabel (1880–1942), Alberta (1887–1963), and “Baby” Alice (1900–1969). Rev. Whitman, later known as the “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race,” is said to have taught …

Wilburn Brothers

The Wilburn Brothers were among the most successful and influential sibling duos in the country music industry during the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. Brothers Virgil Doyle (“Doyle”) Wilburn (1930–1982) and Thurman Theodore (“Teddy”) Wilburn (1931–2003), who hailed from Hardy (Sharp County), were stars of the Grand Ole Opry, recording artists with over thirty albums, recipients of the only “Lifetime Recording Contract” ever given by Decca Records, and hosts of their own nationally syndicated country music show for eleven years. In addition, they were talent agents who helped launch the careers of many other legendary country music stars, including Loretta Lynn, Patty Loveless, and the Osborne Brothers. Their Surefire Music, formed in 1957, is the only remaining family-owned music-publishing house …

Williams, Harold Gene

Harold Gene Williams was a promoter of country music, a radio and television personality, and a businessman, becoming the host of the most widely syndicated country music television show outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Gene Williams was born on January 3, 1938, in Tyronza (Poinsett County) to Abe Rubel Williams and Myrtis Elease Williams, both Mississippi natives. He was one of three children. His father was a farmer and carpenter. As a boy, Williams helped his family in the cotton fields. Williams and his family moved to Dyess (Mississippi County), where they had purchased land, in 1943. Williams attended high school in Dyess, where he began his lifelong obsession with music. He also excelled as a basketball player and wrote for …

Williams, J. Mayo “Ink”

J. Mayo “Ink” Williams was the first African-American producer at a major record label and the most successful record producer of music by black performers, particularly blues and jazz, from the 1920s through the 1940s. The son of Daniel and Millie Williams, J. Mayo Williams was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on September 25, 1894. He left Pine Bluff with his mother at age seven after his father was murdered in a shooting at the local railway station. After moving to Monmouth, Illinois, he attended public schools, where he excelled in academics and football. In 1916, he enrolled at Brown University, where he became a star athlete. In the early 1920s, Williams became one of the first black players in the National …

Williams, J. Paul

J. Paul Williams made notable contributions to the field of church music. His catalog of published lyrics exceeds 925 songs, running the gamut of sacred and secular texts. A leader of choral clinics and composer symposiums, he was also a member of the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP). James Paul Williams was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on December 29, 1937. He was the only child of Ferris Woodrow Williams (a taxi driver) and Violet Simonton Williams (a bank supervisor). He was a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Oklahoma City until he left for college. Williams admired the church’s minister of music, and he decided to pursue that career, even though he had never had a …

Williams, Jason Donald

El Dorado (Union County) native Jason Donald Williams is a pianist, singer, and songwriter based in Memphis, Tennessee, whose music combines elements of rockabilly, boogie-woogie, rock and roll, country, and jazz. Often compared to Jerry Lee Lewis, Williams is known for his dynamic piano-playing style and outlandish stage antics (including balancing items on his head and tap-dancing). Williams’s inspirations include Leo Kottke, John Fahey, and Memphis Slim. Jason D. Williams was born on January 28, 1959, in El Dorado and is the adopted son of Henry J. Williams Jr. and Dorothy Carpenter Williams. Williams learned to play the piano by ear when he was two years old and received a piano at the age of three. He took lessons from …

Williams, Lenny

Soul singer Lenny Williams is an influential rhythm and blues (R&B) artist who is best known for his time as the lead singer of funk band Tower of Power in the mid-1970s. He pursued a solo career after leaving the band. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2012. Leonard Charles (Lenny) Williams was born on February 6, 1945, in Little Rock (Pulaski County); his family later moved to Oakland, California. He learned to play trumpet in elementary school. He started singing in church and considered becoming a minister before deciding to pursue a career in secular R&B. Williams made connections with Bay Area musicians, the most notable being Sly Stone (who fronted the legendary R&B …

Williams, Lucinda

Lucinda Williams is one of America’s most critically acclaimed songwriters and recording artists, as well as the daughter of poet Miller Williams. She has won three Grammy Awards and is considered a leading light of the so-called “alt-country” movement. Her songs, with their simple chord structures and gorgeous melodies, incorporate elements of rural blues, traditional country, and rock and roll. They are distinguished by evocative, plain-spoken lyrics that investigate the human mystery. In 2002, Time magazine called her “America’s best songwriter.” Lucinda Williams was born on January 26, 1953, in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Her mother was Miller Williams’s first wife, Lucille Day. With her professor father moving from job to job, Williams grew up in southern towns such as Vicksburg, …

Williams, Sterling B.

Dr. Sterling Williams was a groundbreaking leader in the field of obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) who served in several important roles in national organizations dedicated to medicine and medical education. In addition, he was a gifted vocalist who performed with numerous choral groups. Sterling B. Williams was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on April 3, 1941. He grew up in Little Rock and graduated from Horace Mann High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, followed by a master’s degree in physiology from Northern Illinois University in 1966 and an MD from what is now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in 1973. He also completed work toward his …

Williamson, “Sonny Boy”

aka: Aleck Miller
Sonny Boy Williamson first became famous as a blues harmonica player in 1941 on the groundbreaking King Biscuit Time radio program (often credited as the first regularly scheduled blues radio show) broadcast by station KFFA in Helena (Phillips County). Williamson’s fame spread, particularly through Europe, in the 1960s and has continued to grow since his death. The annual King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena-West Helena still features his music. Williamson went to great lengths to mislead would-be biographers, and facts about his life are difficult to verify. His real name was Aleck Miller; he was apparently sometimes called Rice, and he was most likely born in 1912 in Glendora, Mississippi, to Millie Ford. He took his stepfather Jim Miller’s surname. As a very young child, …

Witherspoon, Jimmy “Spoon”

James John (Jimmy) Witherspoon, also known by the nickname “Spoon,” was a versatile singer who achieved commercial success and critical acclaim in the genres of blues, jazz, and rhythm and blues. His 1947 recording “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” was a hit in 1949 and became his signature song. Jimmy Witherspoon was born in Gurdon (Clark County) to Leonard Witherspoon, a Missouri Pacific Railroad brakeman, and Eva Tatum Witherspoon, a church pianist. The family was devoutly religious. His parents were members of the choir at their Baptist church. His date of birth is usually given as August 8, 1923, but some sources give the birth year as 1920, and more than one source gives the birth date as August 18, 1921, attributing …

Wolf, John Quincy, Jr.

A college professor and self-trained folklorist, John Quincy Wolf Jr. left a lasting legacy in the mid-South folk music world through his intrepid collecting and field recording and his broad-ranging scholarship. Wolf was born in Batesville (Independence County) on May 14, 1901, the younger of the two children of John Quincy Wolf Sr. and Adele Crouch Wolf. Known as Quincy to distinguish him from his banker father, he spent the first twenty-one years of his life in Batesville, earning his bachelor’s degree from Arkansas College (now Lyon College) in 1922. One year later, Wolf received an MA in English at Vanderbilt University and returned to his alma mater to teach English and history for much of the next decade, with occasional …

Women’s Community Club Band Shell

Built in 1933, the Women’s Community Club Band Shell is located at the northeast corner of Spring Park in Heber Springs (Cleburne County). It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 16, 1994. The band shell is important as a study of the cultural and social development of a central Arkansas resort community and provides a good example of a New Deal public works project. The Women’s Community Club was organized in 1921, and, by the early 1930s, it had decided that a band shell was needed to replace the entertainment pavilion located in Spring Park. Members of the club visited other cities to see their band shells and then contracted with Leo King for construction …

Wootton, Robert (Bob)

Robert (Bob) Wootton was a musician best known for having been Johnny Cash’s backing guitarist for thirty years. In addition to having played on most of Cash’s albums made after 1968, he released music with other members of Cash’s band, the Tennessee Three. He also worked as a driver for musical acts and as a stunt man. Bob Wootton was born on March 4, 1942, in Red Branch, which is a part of the town of Paris (Logan County). He was one of eight children of Rubin C. Wootton, who was a coal miner, and Noma Lucilla Moore Wootton. His father, who also played mandolin, taught him to play the guitar. Wootton’s first musical performances were in church. Among his …