Entries - Entry Category: Music

Ne-Yo

aka: Shaffer Chimere Smith Jr.
Ne-Yo is one of the most prominent and active Arkansas-born recording artists and songwriters performing in the early twenty-first century. Initially known for songs he wrote for other artists, Ne-Yo began releasing solo rhythm and blues (R&B) albums of his own in 2006. Shaffer Chimere “Ne-Yo” Smith Jr. was born on October 18, 1982, in Camden (Ouachita County) to Lorraine and Shaffer Smith. Smith displayed his songwriting acumen at a young age, writing his first song at the age of five. After his parents separated, he relocated with his mother to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he spent the remainder of his formative years. His mother worked in a variety of jobs before becoming a bank manager, though music was a …

Newbern, William David

William David Newbern, who chased the twin passions of music and law, devoted a career to soldiering, teaching, judging, and being a troubadour. He taught law, spent eighteen months as a judge on the first Arkansas Court of Appeals, served fourteen years on the Arkansas Supreme Court, and was a state utility regulator, a special master for the Supreme Court, and manager of a folk music and cultural center in the Arkansas Ozarks. He retired from the Supreme Court in 1998 to devote more of his energies to music. He sang and played several instruments in many groups covering many genres. David Newbern was born on May 28, 1937, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. His father, Charles Banks Newbern, was a …

Nighthawk, Robert

aka: Robert Lee McCollum
Robert Nighthawk was among the most remarkable slide guitarists in blues history, widely admired among his peers and the southern audiences he spent his life entertaining. Nighthawk influenced a generation of bluesmen such as Muddy Waters, B. B. King, Earl Hooker, and supposedly Elmore James. He was the archetype of the rambling bluesman, roaming all over the South with frequent trips to the North, though he chose Helena—present-day Helena-West Helena (Phillips County)—as his home base. This rambling nature and his decision to remain in the South likely explain why Nighthawk never achieved greater fame. Robert Nighthawk was born Robert Lee McCollum in Helena on November 30, 1909, to Ned and Mattie McCollum. He was one of three children. His was …

Norful, Smokie

aka: Willie Ray Norful Jr.
Smokie Norful—a popular pastor in Chicago, Illinois, and a Grammy Award–winning gospel singer—spent most of his developing years in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and is one of the most commercially successful gospel recording artists to have emerged from Arkansas. Born Willie Ray Norful Jr. in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on October 31, 1975, to the Reverend W. R. Norful and Teresa Norful, Norful is the oldest of three boys. Like so many other African-American gospel singers, he found church to be a nurturing environment in which his musical skills could be honed. At a 2012 taping of the Trinity Broadcast Network’s flagship program, Praise the Lord, Norful joked before a studio audience about growing up as a “P. K.” (preacher’s kid) …

Norris, Walter

Walter Norris created an amalgamation of jazz improvisation with classical music in a style that no other pianist has duplicated. His varied career includes eight years as a pianist, musical director, and entertainment manager for New York’s Playboy Club. In addition, he authored noted books on the piano. Walter Norris was born on December 27, 1931, in Little Rock (Pulaski County). His father, Lucian Norris, was an accountant for the Federal Reserve Bank. Walter Norris began studying classical piano at the age of five, was playing “boogie woogie” by eight, and was playing in local bands by twelve. After graduation from Central High School, he began playing with Mose Allison on a southern tour. From 1950 to 1952, he served in the U.S. …

Official State Musical Instrument

aka: Fiddle
On February 28, 1985, the Arkansas legislature approved Act 277, designating the fiddle as the official musical instrument of the State of Arkansas. The designation, which originated as House Bill 749 sponsored by Representative Bob Watts of Harrison (Boone County), asserted that the instrument was “most commonly associated with the musical education and entertainment of the pioneer families of Arkansas and…continues as a dominant musical instrument in the culture…of the people of Arkansas.” Watts’s measure was supported in the chamber by Representative Napoleon Bonaparte “Nap” Murphy of Hamburg (Ashley County), who delivered a brief oration on the floor of the House on the history of the fiddle from medieval times to its modern form. This official designation is a tangible …

Official State Songs

Forty-eight of the fifty states have designated one or more songs as official “state songs.” Arkansas has so designated no less than four compositions. (Only three states—Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Tennessee—have adopted more.) Their styles include devotional anthem, sprightly folk melody, and 1980s vintage country-pop. The earliest was adopted contemporaneously with the flowering of progressivism in Arkansas and marked a popular appreciation of the state’s natural beauty and agricultural bounties, turning away from the “hillbilly” Arkansas of early twentieth-century popular humor. Subsequent state song adoptions largely followed in this vein. Arkansas’s first unofficial song was likely the fiddle tune known popularly as “The Arkansas Traveler.” It appeared under this title by the mid-nineteenth century and became associated with a popular …

Old Folks’ Singing

What became known as Old Folks’ Singing started on May 17, 1885, with the dedication of a new Methodist church and cemetery in Tull (Grant County). The event was multi-denominational, with the entire community participating in the singing and midday dinner. The annual event, which celebrated its 125-year anniversary in 2010, is held in Tull at the Ebenezer United Methodist Church on the third Sunday in May. It is believed to be the oldest continuous singing day held west of the Mississippi River. While the shape-note system of learning music is no longer part of Old Folks’ Singing, the musical heritage of the event can be traced back to the shape-note singing popular in New England and moving to rural …

Opera in the Ozarks at Inspiration Point

Opera in the Ozarks at Inspiration Point is a summer program that trains opera singers and stages performances at Inspiration Point, which overlooks the White River five miles west of Eureka Springs (Carroll County) on U.S. Highway 62. The company has always performed in repertory style, with each student learning several roles over the season. Four weeks of rehearsals are followed by four weeks of performances of three operas with full orchestra, full costumes, and full staging, with all operas performed in their original language. In addition, a children’s opera is performed at venues throughout northwestern Arkansas and southwestern Missouri. Charles Mowers, a German-born engineer and inventor, came from Texas to the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas around 1900 to hunt …

Oslin, Kay Toinette (K. T.)

Kay Toinette (K. T.) Oslin was a country music singer who skyrocketed to fame in her mid-forties with the hit album 80’s Ladies (1987). Her work is known for its humor and mature perspective, as she achieved success much later in life than most popular musicians. K. T. Oslin was born in Crossett (Ashley County) on May 15, 1942. Soon after her birth, her family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and then to Houston, Texas. Oslin considers Houston her hometown. Oslin initially performed as a folk singer with Guy Clark in the 1960s and then moved to New York, where she performed as a chorus girl on and off Broadway. She soon began doing advertising jingles, which led to appearances in …

Ozark Mountain Folk Fair

The Ozark Mountain Folk Fair was a music festival and craft fair held north of Eureka Springs (Carroll County) in 1973 on Memorial Day weekend (May 26–28). The festival drew an audience from around the United States, with an estimated attendance of up to 30,000, and featured a diverse mix of rock, blues, bluegrass, gospel, country, and folk music performances. The rise of 1960s and early 1970s counterculture throughout America was especially relevant within the environmental back-to-the-land movement burgeoning in the Arkansas Ozarks, in which people sought a more mindful and sustainable way of life and rejected commercial aspects of society. In this culture, journalist Edd Jeffords, founder of the Ozark Mountain Folklore Association, organized the Ozark Mountain Folk Fair. …

Palmer, Bob

aka: Robert Franklin Palmer Jr.
Robert Franklin (Bob) Palmer Jr. was an author, music critic, musician, ethnomusicologist, lecturer, record producer, and documentary filmmaker, not to be confused with the British rock singer of the same name. Critic Greil Marcus called Palmer “one of the few distinguished pop music critics to come out of the South.” Bob Palmer was born on June 19, 1945, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to teacher/pianist Robert F. Palmer Sr. and award-winning poet and freelance writer Marguerite Bowers Palmer. He grew up in the lower Pulaski Heights area of Little Rock. He had one sister, a half brother, and a half sister. From an early age, Palmer had his ear to the radio. Unbeknownst to his parents, the teenaged Palmer sometimes …

Paris, Twila

aka: Twila Inez Paris Wright
Twila Inez Paris Wright is a prolific contemporary Christian singer, songwriter, pianist, and author who lives in Fayetteville (Washington County). She is the winner of many Gospel Music Association (GMA) Dove Awards and American Songwriter Awards and has hundreds of published and recorded songs to her credit. Hymns and choruses she has composed have appeared in such widely varying hymn collections as the United Methodist Hymnal and the Baptist Hymnal, as well as those of various Pentecostal and non-denominational churches. Twila Paris was born on December 28, 1958, in Fort Worth, Texas, one of four children of Oren Paris II, the founder of Youth With A Mission ministries and Ecclesia College in Springdale (Washington and Benton counties), and Rachel Inez …

Parler, Mary Celestia

Mary Celestia Parler was responsible for developing and implementing the most extensive folklore research project in Arkansas history. She was a professor of English and folklore at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and the wife of noted Ozark folklore collector Vance Randolph. Through her vast knowledge and appreciation of Arkansas culture, she enabled many future generations to glimpse the state’s cultural history, much of which remains only in the stories, songs, and images she collected with the help of her students and assistants. Mary Parler was born on October 6, 1904, in Wedgefield, South Carolina, the daughter of a country doctor and farmer, Marvin Lamar Parler, and a local historian, writer, and teacher, Josie Platt Parler. Mary had …

Payne, “Sunshine” Sonny

aka: John William Payne
“Sunshine” Sonny Payne was the longtime host of King Biscuit Time, the radio program broadcast on KFFA 1360 AM in Helena (Phillips County) (now Helena-West Helena) that has done much to popularize blues music. As blues journalist Don Wilcock wrote, “Sunshine Sonny Payne exists totally outside the boundaries that define and confine most of society. That he loves blues music and the people…all people…who make it and that he has a vehicle for expressing that love to thousands who then in turn influence millions makes the contribution of his cherub wisdom and good humor of incalculable value.” Sonny Payne was born John William Payne on November 29, 1925, to Gladys Swope Payne and William G. Payne, in Helena (Phillips County). …

Perryman, Lloyd Wilson

Lloyd Wilson Perryman was a member of the country and western group Sons of the Pioneers for more than four decades, appearing in dozens of movies and selling millions of records. An accomplished guitarist and singer, Perryman was a fixture in Hollywood from the mid-1930s until his death. Lloyd Perryman was born in Ruth (Fulton County) on January 29, 1917, to Samuel and Sally Perryman. He had eight older brothers and sisters. His family also lived in Zion (Izard County), where they farmed and owned a general store, prior to moving to California in 1928 when Perryman was eleven years old. There, Perryman learned to play the guitar and became involved with music while in high school. His first radio …

Point of Grace

Point of Grace, which originated in Arkadelphia (Clark County) in 1990, is a female vocal trio—formerly a quartet—that sings contemporary Christian music. Three of the singers in Point of Grace—Denise Jones, Heather Floyd, and Terry Lang—were life-long friends from Norman, Oklahoma. They had sung together in their church choir and school musicals. The trio enrolled at Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) in Arkadelphia in 1988. While singing in the “Ouachitones,” an OBU-sponsored group, they met fellow student Shelley Phillips from North Little Rock (Pulaski County), and in 1991, they formed a quartet. Originally, the four named themselves Sayso from a biblical verse in Psalms: “Let the Redeemed of the Lord say so.” The quartet began singing at local churches, retreats, and other …

Pointer, Anita

Anita Marie Pointer is an original member of the singing group the Pointer Sisters. She started singing gospel in her father’s church in West Oakland, California, and went on to attain pop/R&B stardom. The group’s top-ten hits include the songs “Fire,” “Slow Hand,” “He’s So Shy,” “Jump (For My Love),” “Automatic,” “Neutron Dance,” and “I’m So Excited.” Anita Pointer was born on January 23, 1948, in Oakland, California, the fourth of six children (four of them daughters) of Elton Pointer and Sarah Elizabeth Silas Pointer. Her parents were Arkansas natives, and Pointer’s two older brothers, Fritz and Aaron, were born in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Shortly thereafter, their parents moved the family to Oakland. The family traveled by car almost …

Porter, Art, Jr.

aka: Arthur Lee Porter Jr.
Arthur Lee (Art) Porter Jr. was an extremely talented musician proficient on saxophone, drums, and piano. He was an energetic, engaging entertainer and a creative composer whose work ranged across jazz, rhythm and blues, funk, and ballads. The son of legendary jazz musician Art Porter Sr., he released four albums through Polygram/Verve Records before his accidental death in 1996. Art Porter Jr. was born on August 3, 1961, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Thelma Pauline Porter and Arthur Porter Sr.; he had four siblings. Porter played alto saxophone in the Benkenarteg, Inc., sound group, which was composed of the five siblings. Porter was awarded the title of most talented young jazz artist in America by the Music Educators of …

Porter, Art, Sr.

aka: Arthur Lee Porter Sr.
Arthur Lee (Art) Porter Sr., referred to as an “Arkansas treasure,”was a pianist, composer, conductor, and music teacher. Though best known as a jazz musician, he also performed classical compositions and spirituals. Some of his more memorable performances include two gubernatorial inaugurations for Governor Bill Clinton. Joined by Art Porter Jr. on saxophone, he performed at President Clinton’s Inaugural Interfaith Prayer Service in January 1993 at one of the inaugural receptions in Washington DC. Porter was also responsible for entertaining many heads of state who visited Arkansas during the tenure of governors Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, and Jim Guy Tucker. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1994. Art Porter was born on February 8, 1934, in Little …

Porter, Jim Skillern, Jr.

In the early 1960s, Jim Skillern Porter Jr. was a leader in integrating the music venues in Little Rock (Pulaski County), and he produced Arkansas’s first integrated-seating concert. Later that decade, he operated Arkansas’s first integrated country club, the Riverdale Club, offering golf, tennis, swimming, dining, and dancing. (The name is not to be confused with Riverdale Country Club, whose members had previously moved west and formed Pleasant Valley Country Club.) During the two years the club was open (1968–1970), integrated groups played jazz nightly to full houses. Porter continued his work as a booking agent, trying to interest other venues in hiring integrated groups. Jim Porter Jr. was born on September 1, 1932, in Little Rock to James Skillern Porter …

Presley, Elvis (Arkansas Performances of)

Elvis Presley started his meteoric musical career in 1954 in Memphis, Tennessee, recording for Sam Phillips’s Sun Records. His style of music—combining country (called hillbilly in those days), gospel, blues, pop crooning, and rhythm and blues with his unique singing and dancing talents—can truly be said to have originated a particular brand of rock ‘n’ roll later dubbed rockabilly by music critics and DJs. His music career blossomed a second time in 1968 when he made a comeback after several years in the Hollywood doldrums. His second rise to fame and fortune continued until his death at his Graceland estate in Memphis on August 16, 1977, at the age of forty-two. Elvis’s presence in Arkansas has three general phases. First …

Presley, Luther G.

Luther G. Presley was a music teacher, song director, and prolific writer of gospel songs who has been credited with writing more than 1,100 hymns. His best-known song is most likely “When the Saints Go Marching In,” for which he wrote the lyrics in 1937 (the melody was written by Virgil O. Stamps). Luther Presley was born in Faulkner County on March 6, 1887, to James Thomas Presley and Nancy Ann Brooks Presley. He was educated in Faulkner County’s public schools. Presley attended his first singing school at the age of fourteen, under the direction of M. W. Beckett, and taught at his first singing school at the age of eighteen. Presley continued his musical education, and according to a 2005 …

Price, Florence Beatrice Smith

Florence Beatrice Smith Price was the first African-American female composer to have a symphonic composition performed by a major American symphony orchestra. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed her Symphony in E Minor on June 15, 1933, under the direction of Frederick Stock. The work was later performed at the Chicago World’s Fair as part of the Century of Progress Exhibition. Florence Smith was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on April 9, 1887, to James H. Smith and Florence Gulliver Smith. Her father was a dentist in Little Rock, while her mother taught piano and worked as a schoolteacher and a businesswoman. As a child, Smith received musical instruction from her mother, and she published musical pieces while in high …

Rackensack Folklore Society

The Rackensack Folklore Society was organized for the purpose of perpetuating the traditional folk music of the people of Arkansas, particularly in the mountainous area of the north-central part of the state. Stone County, located in the area, was unique in having music-making families throughout its boundaries who founded the base of the Rackensack organization. The society was begun by Lloyd Hollister, a doctor, and his wife, Martha. They came from the Little Rock (Pulaski County) area in 1962 and settled in the Fox (Stone County) community. Hollister set up his medical practice in Mountain View (Stone County) with Howard Monroe, a noted surgeon in the area. The Hollisters attended various musical sessions in the Fox community and joined in the …

Raney, Wayne

Wayne Raney was an American country singer and harmonica player best known for his hit song “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me.” Raney, along with fellow Arkansan Lonnie Glosson, played a major role in making the harmonica a popular instrument through their musical performances as well as through their mail-order harmonica business. Wayne Raney was born on August 17, 1921, on a farm near Wolf Bayou (Cleburne County), the youngest of five children of William Franklin (Frank) Raney and Bonnie Davis Raney. Due to a foot deformity, he could not do heavy labor. Instead, he pursued an interest in music, learning to play harmonica at an early age. He was drawn to the harmonica after hearing a street performer …

Raye, Collin

aka: Floyd Elliott Wray
With five platinum records and fifteen number-one singles to his credit, country star Collin Raye is one of the most successful recording artists to ever have emerged from Arkansas. Joining the ranks of acclaimed country performers Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, and K. T. Oslin, Raye has proven to be a versatile performer, turning out diverse hits ranging from tender ballads to socially relevant tunes. Collin Raye was born Floyd Elliott Wray on August 22, 1960, in De Queen (Sevier County). His mother, Lois Wray, had achieved notoriety in the 1950s as a regional musician, opening shows for Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. Later in her solo career, Raye’s mother had Raye and his older brother accompany her on …

Rice, Wilburn Steven (Bill)

Wilburn Steven “Bill” Rice is an award-winning Arkansas musician and songwriter who, along with writing partner Jerry Foster, wrote hit records for some of the best-known figures in American music, including Elvis Presley, Charley Pride, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Conway Twitty. Rice has received many songwriting awards and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994. Bill Rice was born on April 19, 1939, in the small town of Datto (Clay County) to Arkansas natives Dewey Wilburn “Wid” Rice and Nova Stevens Rice. When he was a child, his family struggled to make a living in a tiny rural town in the throes of the Great Depression. According to the 1940 census, Rice’s father worked only twenty …

Rich, Charlie

Charlie Rich was a gospel, blues, and country singer and songwriter, and was probably the most musically gifted of the first generation of rockabilly stars. Charlie Rich was born on December 14, 1932, in Colt (St. Francis County), the only son (he had two sisters) of devout Missionary Baptist parents who sang in a church quartet; his mother also played piano. He grew up immersed in the whole range of southern music—along with the church music, there was the country music on the radio and the blues he learned from a sharecropper named C. J., who taught him piano. Rich played in his high school band in Forrest City (St. Francis County), where he was already known as Charlie Kenton …

Riddle, Almeda James

Discovered by a ballad collector in the 1950s, Almeda James Riddle of Greers Ferry (Cleburne County) became a prominent figure in America’s folk music revival. Her memory of ballads, hymns, and children’s songs was one of the largest single repertories documented by folksong scholars. After two decades of concerts and recordings, she received the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts for her contributions to the preservation of Ozark folksong traditions. Almeda James was born on November 21, 1898, in the community of West Pangburn (Cleburne County). She was the fifth of eight children of J. L. James, a timber worker, and Martha Frances Wilkerson. In 1916, she married H. Pryce Riddle and started family life near Heber …

Riedel, Teddy DeLano

aka: Teddy Redell
Teddy DeLano Riedel was a professional musician and songwriter. He toured widely throughout the nation and world, and his songs were recorded by artists such as Elvis Presley and country music star Sonny James. Teddy Riedel was born on June 7, 1937, in Quitman (Cleburne and Faulkner counties) to Ted Wilson Riedel and Mabel Quinn Riedel. His parents were farmers, primarily growing strawberries, which were a major crop in the region. Riedel graduated from Rose Bud High School in Rose Bud (White County). While in high school, Riedel played piano on KWCB radio in Searcy (White County) and became a member of radio show host Lloyd Sutherland’s band. He was befriended by the harmonica virtuoso Wayne Raney, who recruited the …

Riley, Billy Lee

Billy Lee Riley was a rockabilly musician whose career began in the Arkansas Delta and peaked in the 1950s after he signed a record deal with Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. He recorded many songs during his life, alternating between the rockabilly style that made him famous and the blues music that he loved. Billy Lee Riley was born in Pocahontas (Randolph County) on October 5, 1933, to Amos and Mae Riley; he was one of nine children. Although his father was a house painter by trade, the economic disparities of the time led the family into sharecropping. As a result, the Riley family moved frequently to different towns in Arkansas, at times living in intense poverty. Through this lifestyle, …

Rimrock Records

Rimrock Records was founded by country music artist Wayne Raney and his son, Zyndall, in Concord (Cleburne County) in 1961. It is said to be Arkansas’s first and only record-manufacturing company. It was located on Rimrock Road off Heber Springs Road just west of the point at which Highway 87 from Banner (Cleburne County) intersects with Highway 25 at Concord. Such luminaries as the Stanley Brothers and Red Smiley made records, both 45 RPM and LPs, for Rimrock, and Elvis Presley and Ike and Tina Turner did dubbing and studio work there in the early 1970s. Big-name celebrities were often flown in to the Batesville Regional Airport at Southside (Independence County), slipping into Concord at night unbeknownst to the media. …

Riverfest Arts and Music Festival

Riverfest Arts and Music Festival was Arkansas’s premier summer event, offering three days of music on the banks of the Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock (Pulaski County) and North Little Rock (Pulaski County). Operated by Riverfest Inc., a nonprofit organization overseen by a board of directors, Riverfest attracted more than 250,000 people in 2013, creating an economic impact of more than $30 million in the local community. Founded by the Junior League of Little Rock as the Summer Arts Festival in July 1978, the first Riverfest presented the American Wind Symphony and other activities at Murray Park. Following the event’s initial success, the date of the Summer Arts Festival was moved the next year to its well-known Memorial Day weekend …

Rock ‘n’ Roll Highway 67

Rock ’n’ Roll Highway 67 is a segment of U.S. Highway 67 running approximately 111 miles through White, Jackson, Lawrence, and Randolph counties in northeastern Arkansas, with a portion in Miller County in southwestern Arkansas. Its name is derived from the rockabilly music performed at nightclubs and other venues located on the highway by legendary progenitors of the genre. The designation by Act 497 of the Eighty-seventh Arkansas General Assembly in 2009 has since spawned music festivals, museum exhibits, and plaques in communities situated along the highway. The term “rockabilly”—a portmanteau of “rock ’n’ roll” and “hillbilly”—is defined as a mixture of blues, country and western, and rhythm and blues music that saw its biggest popularity beginning in the post–World War II …

Rock and Roll Music

Although the roots of rock and roll music can be traced back much farther, the genre made its musical debut in the early 1950s with artists such as Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis, all of whom helped shape what rock music has become. The music of the 1950s gave way to the 1960s and the popularity of surf music, as well as the very significant “British Invasion.” Arkansas musicians played an important part in this burgeoning genre. In the mid-1960s, Little Rock (Pulaski County), along with many other mid-sized American cities, saw an explosion in the formation of garage bands, all of which began competing for performance spots at school, fraternity, and country club engagements. This excitement …

Rock Island Line, The

“The Rock Island Line” is a world-famous song—recorded by the likes of Johnny Cash, Harry Belafonte, and Grandpa Jones—the earliest known performances of which are two 1934 recordings made in Arkansas prisons. A tall tale in rhyme, the song’s subject is a train so fast that it arrives at its destination in Little Rock (at 8:49) before its departure from Memphis (at “half past nine”). The collectors responsible for the first recordings were an unlikely pair. John Lomax was a white, Mississippi-born college teacher already well known as a folksong collector, while Huddie Ledbetter was a black, Louisiana-born singer and guitar player just released from prison and soon to be even better known as “Leadbelly.” Arriving in Arkansas in late …

Rockabilly

Rockabilly, a musical genre that appeared in the mid-1950s, is an early form of rock and roll initially performed by white musicians from the mid-South. Several Arkansans became leading rockabilly songwriters and performers. A distinctly American phenomenon, rockabilly was strongly influenced by developments of the post–World War II period. These include the introduction of the single-play 45 rpm record, the early phases of the civil rights movement, and the increasing mobility and purchasing power of teenagers. Characterized by a blues structure and a moderately fast tempo, rockabilly music celebrated a world of cars, parties, fast living, and sexual relationships. Its use of slang, much of it from African-American origins, and its themes of rebellious youth and self-indulgence, caused disfavor in …

Rolling Stones, Arrest of the

The July 5, 1975, lunch stop and subsequent arrest of Rolling Stones guitarists Ron Wood and Keith Richards in Fordyce (Dallas County) is fabled in the town, and the incident became a footnote in the police record of the English rock and roll band. The quintet had cultivated an outlaw image since its early 1960s inception. According to Arkansas native Bill Carter, the Rolling Stones’ attorney from 1973 to 1990, everywhere the Stones went in 1975, it was a challenge for authorities. Riot squads and narcotics units were common during the group’s twenty-eight-city, $13 million-grossing tour. On July 4, the Stones played Memphis, Tennessee. Richards and new member Wood decided to sightsee and drive with two others to their July …

Rush, Bobby

aka: Emmett Ellis Jr.
Bobby Rush, known as the “King of the Chitlin’ Circuit,” is an award-winning blues artist whose music also parlays elements of southern soul, funk, and rap into a genre he calls “folkfunk.” Bobby Rush was born Emmett Ellis Jr. on November 10, 1935, near Homer, Louisiana, to Emmett and Mattie Ellis; however, the 1940 census lists him as three years old. The son of a minister, Rush was influenced by his father’s guitar and harmonica playing, and he first experimented with music by tapping on a sugar-cane syrup bucket and playing a broom-and-wire diddley bow. In 1947, his family moved to Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), where his music career began. He headed a band at a local juke joint behind a sawmill, …

Rwake

Rwake is a sludge/doom/experimental metal band based in Little Rock (Pulaski County). The band, originally called Wake, formed in 1996 and consisted of Kris Graves on guitar, Jeff Morgan on drums, Chris (C. T.) Terry on vocals, and Aaron Mills on bass. The band added the R to its name when it realized that another band had already claimed the name Wake. The original line-up played its first show on March 15, 1997, in Batesville (Independence County). Rwake melds elements of a number of metal subgenres including sludge, doom, hardcore, and death metal. Due to the band members’ fondness for many styles of music, especially southern music, subtle influences from artists such as Charlie Daniels, Hank Williams (as well as …

Sanders, Pharoah

Pharoah Sanders was a noted jazz saxophonist 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 stretched over five decades from 1964 into the first decades of the twenty-first century. 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 …

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 …

Silver Moon Club

The Silver Moon was a popular nightclub and music venue in Newport (Jackson County). The club’s heyday was in the mid-1950s and early 1960s, when it hosted acts such as Glenn Miller, Bob Wills, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, Conway Twitty, and Sonny Burgess, as well as African-American performers such as Louis Armstrong. At the time, the Silver Moon was the largest night club in Arkansas, holding 800–1,000 people on a busy night. The Silver Moon was established in 1944 in the wake of Newport’s wartime economic boom. During the war, Newport constructed a large military base, the Newport Air Field, which doubled the town’s population. With so many servicemen in the area, local business owners sought to fulfill …