Arkansas Music

Almost 25 years to the day that Conway Twitty died at the age of 59, relatives, former bandmates and fans of the country and rockabilly singer gathered Friday in his hometown of Helena, Arkansas for a celebration of his life. 

Born Harold Lloyd Jenkins in 1933 at Friars Point, Mississippi, his family moved to east Arkansas at the age of 10. After serving in the military, he returned home and had to decide between two dreams: music or baseball, according to Doug Friedlander, organizer of Friday's events. Inspired by the sound of Elvis Pressley, Jenkins traveled to Memphis, working with Sam Phillips at Sun Records.

Arkansas-born jazz musician Bob Dorough died Monday at the age of 94. While he was an acclaimed bebop pianist who was part of the 1950s New York jazz scene, Dorough reached his widest audience writing and singing songs designed to make learning fun for kids.

He was one of the primary musicians used in the Schoolhouse Rock! short films that aired between Saturday morning cartoons in the 1970s and ‘80s. The three-minute lessons were set to music and taught mathematics, grammar, civics and science.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Chris Ware/Getty Images/NPR.org

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, an Arkansas-native who influenced musicians later credited with creating rock and roll, is one of six acts being inducted this year into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Born in the Woodruff County town of Cotton Plant in 1915, Tharpe is being posthumously inducted during a ceremony Saturday night in Cleveland.

Tharpe rose to fame in the 1930s, breaking boundaries by being an African-American woman who sang while playing an electric guitar with heavy distortion. Her style would later be adopted by blues performers and iconic rock guitarists.

Bill Clinton
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Bill Clinton was known as the rock ‘n’ roll president – the first from a generation that grew up on the music to reach the highest office in the nation. Sunday, he spoke at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock at the opening of a temporary exhibit that looks at the impact rock music has had over the years on politics and social movements.

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Foundation has received its largest ever individual gift. The $1.8 million donation to the foundation’s endowment comes from the estate of Linda Garner Riggs, who passed away last November at age 70. 

Take a listen to the interview above with ASO CEO Christina Littlejohn about what the gift means for music in Arkansas.

The city of Walnut Ridge is the only city in Arkansas where the Beatles ever set foot during their touring days as a band, and seven years ago Mayor Charles Snapp and a group of civic leaders wanted to commemorate the event with a festival. This year, it struck gold.

Beatles at the Ridge was chosen by the Arkansas Festivals and Events Association (AFEA) as its Gold winner, or the best festival in the state in 2017. Snapp told Talk Business & Politics he can’t believe this event, without a single paid staffer, has been selected as the best in Arkansas.

Bonnie Montgomery
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Bonnie Montgomery has been a fixture in the Little Rock music scene for years with a voice that has incredible range, singing deep, complicated country songs. When you learn about her background as a classically-trained opera singer who grew up in White County, Arkansas, you begin to understand how she comes to write and perform such songs.

The first Central Arkansas Music Awards ceremony is scheduled for Tuesday night at the Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock.

Arkansas Sounds Music Coordinator John Miller says many area artists have shown interest in the event and want it to grow into something beyond a one-night ceremony.

“There’s a lot of folks that really kind of want to hopefully spur this into a bigger recognition of Arkansas artists and hopefully maybe that will spur something along the lines of a music hall of fame or something like that,” Miller said.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a pioneering gospel singer and guitar player from Arkansas, will be among the 2018 inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was born in the Woodruff County town of Cotton Plant in 1915 and achieved fame in the 1930s.  Tharpe was among six acts announced Wednesday for next year's induction ceremony and will be honored in the category Early Influences. 

Stephen Koch, host of the weekly feature Arkansongs, says given her influence, it’s an honor long overdue. He spoke with KUAR during All Things Considered.

M. E. Kubit

Listen To The Interview 

Hot Springs singer songwriter Ryan Sauders and guitarist Keith West  sat down with J. Bradley Minnick, host of KUAR's Arts & Letters, to discuss a very difficult subject: suicide of loved ones and how it permeates much of Ryan's lyrics and music.

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