Entry Category: Music

Burns, Billy Don

Billy Don Burns is a country singer, guitarist, and songwriter. Born and raised in Arkansas, he has made his home state the subject of some of his most memorable music. While he has not enjoyed great commercial success, he has collaborated with the biggest names in country music. His drug abuse, time in prison, and multiple marriages have added to his legend, rendering him one of the true “outlaws” of country music. Billy Don Burns was born on July 19, 1949, in Fifty-Six (Stone County), near Mountain View (Stone County), to Junior Jackson Burns and Urene Balentine Burns. His father was a farmer and timberman. The family did not have electricity until Burns was five. As is true of so …

Butler, Bobby “El Charro Negro”

Bobby “El Charro Negro” Butler broke down barriers as the first African American to become an award-winning Tejano singer. Butler’s career spanned over fifty years and included two Grammy nominations as part of the Tortilla Factory band. Robert (Bobby) Butler was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on October 14, 1937, to Cora Butler; the name of Butler’s father is unknown. His mother worked as a maid for wealthy white families who often mistreated her because of the color of her skin. His family moved to Fort Worth, Texas, and by seven he was picking cotton alongside his mother and younger brother. In the fields, he learned to sing the Tejano music the Mexican laborers taught him. In 1956, Butler …

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, 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. …

Davis, Miles

Miles Davis was one of the most prolific, innovative, and influential jazz musicians of all time. In addition to his unique trumpeting style, he played with other jazz legends and released such classics as Birth of the Cool, Sketches of Spain, and Kind of Blue. A native of Illinois who went on to international fame after relocating to New York City, Davis had strong Arkansas roots. Both of Davis’s parents were from Arkansas, and he credited his experiences in Arkansas with developing his unique sound and influencing recordings later in his career. Miles Dewey Davis III was born on May 26, 1926, in Alton, Illinois. He grew up in nearby East St. Louis, located across the Mississippi River from the …

Deckelman, 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 …

Dickey, Ben

Ben Dickey is an Arkansas-born musician, actor, singer, and songwriter. In addition to his music, he is known for his role in the 2018 movie Blaze, in which he played Arkansas musician Blaze Foley. A guitarist with a voice reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s, Dickey has released two solo albums. He also worked with actor/director Ethan Hawke on several movie projects. Benjamin Dickey was born on June 24, 1977, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the youngest of three children born to David and Robyn Dickey. His parents separated when he was five and later divorced. Dickey’s father, who had been a star running back for the Razorbacks football team in the late 1960s and worked in finance and real estate, later …

Dickinson, Jim

Jim Dickinson was a musician, record producer, and author. Born in Little Rock (Pulaski County), he briefly lived in Chicago, Illinois, before settling in Memphis, Tennessee, where he got his musical start. Dickinson later worked with legendary figures in rock and soul music, including Sun Records producer Sam Phillips and producer Jerry Wexler, as well as Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan. In the 1970s, Dickinson produced albums by legendary Memphis band Big Star and by the Replacements. He is also the father of Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi All-Stars. James Luther Dickinson was born on November 15, 1941, in Little Rock to Arkansas natives James Baker “Big Jim” Dickinson and Martha Huddleston Dickinson. At …

Ditto, Beth

aka: Mary Beth Patterson
White County native Beth Ditto achieved renown as the singer and songwriter for Gossip, an indie, dance-punk band based in Portland, Oregon, before pursuing a solo career in music and acting. 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 …

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 …

Dover, Connie

Connie Dover is a musician who has received critical accolades internationally for her interpretations of traditional English, Irish, and Scottish folk music, as well as folk ballads of the American West. She also is an accomplished arranger, composer, and poet. She is the founder and owner of the independent record label Taylor Park Music Inc. Constance Gail (Connie) Dover was born in Jonesboro (Craighead County) on October 10, 1958, to Doil Lee Dover, who was a businessman, and Janice Steed Dover, an educator and social activist. Her younger brother, Jeffrey (Jef), became a musician and restaurateur. The family moved frequently during her early childhood before settling in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1969. After graduating from North Kansas City High School …

Dr. Smith’s Champion Hoss Hair Pullers

During the height of the great string band era of the 1920s, one of the largest and most popular string bands in Arkansas was Dr. Smith’s Champion Hoss Hair Pullers. Originally founded to promote tourism in the area of Izard County, the band went on to achieve a modicum of regional success before succumbing to the Depression. Dr. Smith’s Champion Hoss Hair Pullers was founded by Dr. Henry Harlin Smith, a surgeon for the Missouri Pacific Railroad who lived in the Calico Rock (Izard County) area. On his travels with the railway, he found that he was often working to dispel the backward image that many people outside of Arkansas had of the region. Smith thought that if more people …