Entry Category: Music

McBeth, William Francis

William Francis McBeth was a world-renowned composer and conductor. He was the Trustees’ Distinguished University Professor and resident composer at Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) in Arkadelphia (Clark County), where he served as chairman of the Department of Music Theory and Composition. The governor appointed him composer laureate of Arkansas in 1975. McBeth’s compositions include works for all media, but was influential in the development of the literature for wind symphony. Francis McBeth was born on March 9, 1933, in Ropesville, Texas, to Joseph Phinis McBeth, a Baptist minister, and Lillie May Carpenter McBeth. He spent his youth in western Texas, where he began his musical training at an early age, studying piano with his mother and taking up the trumpet in …

McCoy, Rose Marie

Rose Marie Hinton McCoy broke into the white, male-dominated music business in the early 1950s to become a highly sought-after songwriter whose career lasted over six decades. More than 360 artists have recorded her tunes, including Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley, and Sarah Vaughan. She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame in 2018. Marie Hinton was born in Oneida (Phillips County) on April 19, 1922, to Levi Hinton and Celetia Brazil Hinton. She and her older brother and sister attended the area’s two-room elementary school, went to church regularly, and worked on the forty-acre farm their parents rented. Though Oneida was located in the Mississippi Delta, often referred …

McCracklin, Jimmy

aka: James David Walker
Jimmy McCracklin was a renowned blues musician, singer, music industry entrepreneur, and songwriter. His hundreds of songwriting credits include his own recording of “The Walk,” which was a Top 10 hit for him in 1958, and “Tramp,” which was a Top 5 rhythm and blues (R&B) hit twice in 1967, first for Lowell Fulson and then as a duet by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas. McCracklin steadfastly claimed to have composed, uncredited, his friend B. B. King’s blues standard “The Thrill Is Gone,” although that claim remains contested. McCracklin is characterized as having played West Coast blues, a style associated mainly with African-American musicians who, like McCracklin, migrated to the San Francisco Bay Area of California during the 1940s. However, …

McFerrin, Robert, Sr.

Robert McFerrin Sr. was an African-American baritone opera and concert singer who became the first black male to appear in an opera at the Metropolitan Opera house in New York City, his debut following by less than three weeks the well-publicized breaking of the color barrier by contralto Marian Anderson. However, McFerrin’s career at the Met was brief, being limited to ten performances in three seasons over three years. Although he sang in European opera houses and performed concerts extensively, he failed to attain major prominence. He is best remembered as the father of singer and conductor Bobby McFerrin, with whom he sometimes performed. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1995. Robert McFerrin was born on March …

McKissic, James Henry (Jimmy)

Jimmy McKissic was a world-renowned pianist from Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) who spent much of his life in France but performed throughout the world, including more than two dozen events at Carnegie Hall in New York. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1994. James Henry McKissic was born on March 16, 1940, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to the Reverend James E. McKissic and Rosa Daniels McKissic; he had five brothers and five sisters, including one sister who was adopted. Growing up in Pine Bluff, McKissic was playing the piano by the age of three. He played in his father’s church and for other local congregations as a youth; his mother taught him until he …

Melody Boys Quartet

The Melody Boys Quartet was a Southern gospel music group based in Little Rock (Pulaski County). The Melody Boys Quartet officially disbanded on December 31, 2012, at the end of the group’s “Exit 63” tour, celebrating sixty-three years together. The group had its origins in the late 1930s when Herschel Foshee, aided by Joe Roper, created the Stamps-Baxter Quartet. The group was named after the music publishing company founded by V. O. Stamps and J. R. Baxter in 1926; the publisher was established in Texas but later opened an office in Pangburn (White County). The quartet’s original purpose was to sing and record the company’s publications exactly as printed and thus aid in selling Stamps-Baxter songbooks to interested musical groups …

Meyer, Rhena Salome Miller

aka: Goat Woman of Smackover
Rhena Salome Miller Meyer—better known as “the Goat Woman”—lived in Smackover (Union County) for over fifty years. Her sometimes reclusive nature, numerous pet goats, and considerable musical talents as a “one-woman band” all contributed to her folk-figure status in the region. Rhena (sometimes spelled Rhene) Miller was born in Orwin, Pennsylvania, on July 26, 1905. Her father, John R. Miller, was a Quaker who worked on a dairy farm and had a traveling medicine show that promoted the Seven Sisters Hair Tonic. He is said to have used young Rhena as a model in advertising the hair-growth tonic; however, as with much of her life story, no evidence has been found for this. Her mother, Katie Kessler, was an opera …

Mikel, Elmer Wayne

Elmer Wayne Mikel was a bootlegger during Prohibition and later became a self-published author who wrote books and essays about his criminal life and his experiences at the notorious Tucker State Prison Farm (now the Tucker Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction) in Jefferson County in the 1930s. Mikel was also a songwriter who wrote about Arkansas subjects, including the deadly Greenwood (Sebastian County) tornado of 1968. Elmer Mikel was born on October 8, 1905, in Jenny Lind (Sebastian County), one of ten children of George Elmer Mikel and Amanda Featherston Mikel. George Mikel, a Missouri native, was active in the United Mine Workers of America and ran as a socialist candidate for governor of Arkansas in 1912. Elmer Mikel attended high school but …

Miller, David

David Freeland Miller, who maintains a broadcasting studio in his Little Rock (Pulaski County) home, is producer and host of Swingin’ Down the Lane, a one-hour program that is broadcast weekly on more than forty National Public Radio (NPR) affiliates and independent commercial stations. The program is also heard on stations in Perth, Australia, and Hamburg, Germany. David Miller was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on April 6, 1928, the third of four children of Alan and Margaret Miller. He received his secondary education at the Pingry School in Elizabeth. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Princeton University and master’s and PhD degrees, also in psychology, from the University of Michigan. While still pursuing his doctorate, Miller was …

Miller, Richard “Curly”

Richard “Curly” Miller was a renowned musician who lived in Kingston (Madison County). He and his wife, Carole Anne Rose, co-founded the band The Old 78’s. He was also a noted organic farmer, establishing Sweden Creek Farm with Rose in the deep woods of the Ozark Mountains. Richard Miller was born on August 10, 1954, to John C. Miller and Roberta Beck Miller in Baltimore, Maryland, although he was raised in Penfield, New York. He played classical violin as a child, rock-and-roll guitar as a teenager, and three-finger Leo Kottke–style guitar during his one semester at the State University of New York at Potsdam. Guitarists Doc Watson and Norman Blake inspired him to learn flat-picking guitar, while Frankie Gavin and …

Minor, James Calvin (Jim)

James Calvin (Jim) Minor was an American country singer/songwriter, producer, publisher, disc jockey, and record label owner. He recorded country music for labels including Mercury and United Artists and managed the careers of other significant recording artists. Minor recorded under the name Jimmy Minor until 1960, when he recorded for United Artists as Jim Minor. Jim Minor was born on January 20, 1931, in DeValls Bluff (Prairie County). His mother, Margaret Meyer Minor, was a niece of noted photographer Mike Disfarmer. He learned to play the guitar and sing at an early age. When he was a teenager, he won a talent contest at what is now the Arkansas State Fair and Livestock Show; the prize was to go to …

Minstrel Shows

Popular during the nineteenth century, the minstrel show was one of the earliest forms of theatrical entertainment in the United States. The elements of the genre were developed during the 1820s and 1830s, and the first show fully dedicated to minstrelsy was staged in 1843 by the Virginia Minstrels. Early performances were given by white performers who used burnt cork to blacken their faces in order to represent different black characters. The white performers also drew heavily on the music produced by African Americans, and in particular plantation slaves in the South. The banjo, an instrument with origins in West Africa, and the “bones”—pairs of bones or wood that were struck against one another—quickly became part of the standard minstrel …

Montana, Patsy

aka: Ruby Blevins
Patsy Montana was a pioneering female country music singer whose signature song, “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” was the first record by a female country artist to sell a million copies. Patsy Montana was born Ruby Blevins on October 30, 1908, near Hot Springs (Garland County). She was the eleventh child and only daughter of farmer Augustus Blevins and his wife, Victoria. By the 1920 census, the family was living in Hempstead County. Raised on church songs, fiddle music, and the music of country star Jimmie Rodgers, Blevins headed to Los Angeles with her brother and sister-in-law in 1930; hoping to catch the public’s eye, she changed the spelling of her first name to Rubye. She studied violin …

Montgomery, Bonnie

Bonnie Montgomery is a singer, songwriter, and musician from Arkansas. A classically trained singer and pianist, she has made a name for herself in the field of country music, releasing several full-length albums and touring and performing with nationally known acts. Musician Dale Watson called her a “sophisticated badass who was born to sing,” while Counterpunch praised her “white trash arias, soaked in alcohol and sex.” Montgomery herself says music “connects us all” and is a “beautiful, spiritual thing.” Bonnie Jill Montgomery was born on August 18, 1979, in Searcy (White County) to Vani Quattlebaum Montgomery and Little Rock (Pulaski County) native Marcus Montgomery. Her father was a farmer and owner of a trucking company. Her mother became the owner …

Moore, Justin Cole

Justin Moore is a popular country music singer and performer from the small town of Poyen (Grant County). In 2009, his Arkansas-inspired song “Small Town U.S.A.” became his first breakthrough hit, landing at number one that year on the country charts. His self-titled 2009 album went gold, as did its follow-up Outlaws Like Me in 2011. In 2014, Moore was named Best New Artist by the Academy of Country Music. Justin Cole Moore was born on March 30, 1984, in Poyen to Tommy Ray Moore and Charlene Webb Moore. He has no siblings. Moore’s father worked for the local post office, and during his childhood, his parents owned a small restaurant. Moore worked most of his youth on his grandparents’ …

Moorman, Charlotte

aka: Madeline Charlotte Moorman Garside
Charlotte Moorman was a cellist, avant-garde performance artist, and founder of the New York Avant Garde Festival. Madeline Charlotte Moorman was born on November 18, 1933, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to J. R. and Vernan Moorman; her father was a sales manager. Moorman began playing the cello at the age of ten, going on to perform with local symphonies while enrolled at Central High School. A member of the National Honor Society and a Central High debutante group called the Southernaires, Moorman graduated in 1951 and attended Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, on a music scholarship. After receiving a BA in 1955, Moorman earned a master’s degree in 1957, studying under illustrious concert cellist Horace Britt at the University …

Morrison Twin Brothers String Band

The Morrison Twin Brothers String Band consisted of twin brothers and fiddlers Abbie Sherman Morrison and Absie Sherdon (or Sheridan) Morrison of Campbell (Searcy County). The Morrisons became part of the folk revival in Mountain View (Stone County) and played music with Jimmy Driftwood in the 1950s and early 1960s. Abbie and Absie Morrison were born on November 12, 1876 (media sources say November 11, but the Morrison family Bible has November 12) in Campbell to Lewis Calvin “Trip” Morrison and the first of his three wives, Rebecca Jane Denton. Trip fought in both the Confederate and Union armies, but his heart was with the Union. He earned the name Trip, according to family lore, from his many “trips” home …

Mosley, Lawrence Leo “Snub”

Lawrence Leo “Snub” Mosley was a jazz trombonist, composer, and band leader originally from Little Rock (Pulaski County). Nicknamed “Snub,” Mosley had a career that spanned more than fifty years, which included stints in the 1930s with Claude Hopkins, Fats Waller, and Louis Armstrong. Mosley is probably best remembered today as creator of his own unique instrument—the slide saxophone—which combined an upright saxophone and mouthpiece with a trombone mouthpiece and slide. Snub Mosley was born on December 29, 1905, in Little Rock. Encouraged by his grandfather, he took an interest in the trombone and played in the band at M. W. Gibbs High School in Little Rock. His tendency to improvise on sheet music and (as Mosley put it) “swing” drew …

Music and Musicians

Arkansas has long been among the most significant contributors to the nation’s musical foundation, serving as fertile ground for the development of multiple genres as well as being native home to some of the best-known and influential musicians, singers, songwriters, and songs that the world has known. Much of this is due to the state’s geography—both its diverse landscape and populace and its proximity to key musical hubs and regions in the nation. Pre-European Exploration through the Nineteenth Century “From the first, music mattered. You can even see it in what the archaeologists find…fragments of cane flutes and whistles older than Columbus,” wrote Robert Cochran in his history of Arkansas music, Our Own Sweet Sounds: A Celebration of Popular Music …

Myers, Amina Claudine

Arkansas native Amina Claudine Myers is a noted pianist, singer, educator, recording artist, and composer who gained prominence in Chicago, Illinois, and New York City beginning in the 1970s. She has had a long career in jazz, choral/orchestral music, and theater, and is a member of the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame. Amina Claudine Myers was born on March 21, 1942, in Blackwell (Conway County). She was raised by her great-aunt, Emma Thomas, and by her uncle, who gave her music lessons early in her life. She studied classical piano at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Morrilton (Conway County). She moved to Dallas, Texas, in 1949 and kept studying piano. She played for …

Nancarrow, Samuel Conlon

Samuel Conlon Nancarrow composed innovative music and produced a body of work largely for player piano. According to musicologist Kyle Gann, who has published a study of Nancarrow’s compositions, they are the most rhythmically complex ever written by anyone anywhere, featuring up to twelve different tempos at the same time. Gann describes “whirlwinds of notes…joyously physical in their energy.” The wealth of ideas in Nancarrow’s works has had a lasting impact on other composers. Conlon Nancarrow was born in Texarkana (Miller County) on October 27, 1912. His father, Samuel Charles Nancarrow, was a businessman and mayor of Texarkana from 1927 to 1930. His mother was Myra Brady Nancarrow, and he had one brother, Charles. At the insistence of his father, …

Nance, Jack

Arkansas native Jack Nance was a musician, songwriter, and entertainment manager who worked with many of the top acts in the music business. Nance first gained notice in Sonny Burgess’s backing band the Pacers. He later went on to play with Conway Twitty—and in fact wrote one of Twitty’s biggest hits. In his later years, while based in Nashville, Tennessee, Nance worked in tour management and as a music promoter for acts such as Michael Jackson, Dionne Warwick, the Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues, and the Monkees. Richard Jackson (Jack) Nance was born on April 22, 1935, in Newport (Jackson County), the youngest of three children born to the farming family of Arkansas natives Roscoe A. Nance and Mary E. …

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 …