Arkansas Music

Country musician Johnny Cash was commissioned as a Davidson County sheriff's deputy on Sept. 12, 1979 – 23 years to the day before his death.
Nashville Public Radio

Johnny Cash earned a reputation as an outlaw after being arrested and spending a handful of nights in jail for minor offenses. Contrary to popular myths, The Arkansas-native was never convicted of a felony or spent time in prison – except when he was performing for inmates.

But it turns out, the prolific country singer once actually had the power to enforce the law in Tennessee. Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall presented a newly discovered copy of the musician's official ID as a sheriff's deputy this week at the Johnny Cash Museum in downtown Nashville.

Arkansas State Fair
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The 2019 Arkansas State Fair kicks off Friday, running through Sunday, Oct. 20. At the fairgrounds along Roosevelt Road in Little Rock, rides are being assembled and game booths set up. General Manager Doug White says several new rides will be among the more than 60 rides on the midway.

Last year, six days of rain hurt attendance, he said. The fair typically averages 400,000 to 450,000 people each year. This year, White is hoping to exceed that.

Photo from cover of Thought We Were Writing the Blues: But They Called It Rock 'n' Roll

Explore the Music of This Rock & Roll Pioneer

In Part II, Arts & Letters continues speaking with biographer Arlene Corsano about the music and career of Arkansan songwriter and singer Rose Marie McCoy and Corsano's book Thought We Were Writing The Blues But They Called It Rock 'n' Roll.

Catch up and listen to Part I before this episode!

Discover one of America's most prolific songwriters.

On this episode of Arts & Letters, we speak with biographer Arlene Corsano about the life and music of Arkansan songwriter and singer Rose Marie McCoy. 

Through personal stories and rare interview recordings with McCoy, Corsona tells the in-depth and behind-the-scenes story of a complicated singer and songwriter who broke barrier after barrier as a black woman in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s in the music business. 

On this episode of Arts & Letters, we celebrate the music from Season Five.

Hosted by producer Mary Ellen Kubit this episode shares favorite and memorable music from the various episodes this year. 

Our Executive Producer and Host J. Bradley Minnick is busy in the studio recording for Season Six, but he'll break away for a few minutes for a behind the scenes discussion about how music is selected and placed in various episodes.           

Asa Hutchinson signing bills
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

All bills passed during the 2019 session of the Arkansas General Assembly have been signed into law. Gov. Asa Hutchinson did not veto any bills this year. He signed the final pieces of legislation Wednesday afternoon alongside several lawmakers.

A formal adjournment is set to take place next Wednesday when lawmakers return to the Capitol for Sine Die. In some previous years, that has been when senators and representatives have had to consider whether to attempt to override gubernatorial vetoes, something that won’t be necessary this time.

Johnny Cash Daisy Bates
Library of Congress/ National Park Service

A proposal to replace Arkansas’s two statues in the U.S. Capitol with singer Johnny Cash and civil rights leader Daisy Bates has advanced to the state House of Representatives for what could be a final vote. The bill was passed in the Arkansas Senate last month with no one voting against it.

Maxine Brown Russell
County Music Hall of Fame

Maxine Brown Russell, a country music singer and songwriter who performed as part of a trio with her siblings Jim Ed Brown and Bonnie Brown, died Monday in hospice care in Little Rock. She was 87.

The Browns had several hits in the 1950s and ‘60s, including "The Three Bells" which topped Billboard’s country and Hot 100 pop charts for weeks and sold more than a million copies. The group was also nominated for a Grammy. They joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1963 and were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015.

A Tennessee rapper has been sentenced in Arkansas to five years in prison on a federal weapons charge that came after he was arrested with a gun a week before a shooting at an unrelated event at a Little Rock nightclub where he was performing.

Ricky Hampton, who performs under the name Finese2Tymes, was sentenced Thursday in Little Rock.

Hampton, who has a prior felony conviction, initially pleaded guilty in March to possessing a gun at a Forrest City nightclub in eastern Arkansas. He sought to withdraw his guilty plea in October, but withdrew the request two weeks later.

Attorney Solomon Radner (left) with plaintiffs Tyrone Jackson and Tasheara announcing the lawsuit Wednesday. They contend the Power Ultra Lounge was negligent by not providing better security.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Nineteen people who were injured during a mass shooting last year at a Little Rock nightclub are suing the manager of the Power Ultra Lounge and its property owner. Twenty-five people were hit when gunfire erupted between rival gang members at a performance by the rapper known as Finese2Tymes. Three others were injured while trying to escape the club.

Attorney Solomon Radner of Southfield, Mich. says the club was negligent by failing to have adequately trained security and staff for that kind of event.

A Tennessee rapper wants to withdraw his guilty plea from a weapons charge that was filed after he was arrested with a gun following a shooting at a Little Rock nightclub that left 25 injured last summer.

An attorney for Ricky Hampton said in a filing in federal court Monday that Hampton wanted a hearing on his request to withdraw his guilty plea and have substitute counsel appointed. Hampton in March pleaded guilty and admitted he possessed a gun at an eastern Arkansas night club a week before the Little Rock shooting.

The recent Johnny Cash Heritage Festival in Dyess has reneweed interest in the musical legend's childhood. 

In this new video from Arkansas Public Media, we take a look inside the agricultural resettlement home in rural Dyess where Johnny, then known as J.R., lived with his parents and six siblings after the Great Depression. 

Johnny Cash Festival To Honor 50th Anniversary Of Prison Concert

Oct 16, 2018
Johnny Cash Boyhood Home
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Man in Black was on the verge of losing it all. He was recently divorced, and drugs and alcohol continued to ravage Johnny Cash’s body and mind. He needed a comeback, and it was time to gamble.

Cash arrived at Folsom, a prison near Sacramento, Calif., on Jan. 13, 1968. His performance in front of about 1,000 inmates, became one of the most iconic moments in American music and resurrected his career.

Louis Jordan Highway
Stephen Koch / Arkansongs

A pioneering musician from Brinkley is being posthumously honored by having part of U.S. 49 in eastern Arkansas dedicated as the Louis Jordan Memorial Highway. A ceremony was held Monday with officials from the Arkansas Department of Transportation and other dignitaries who came together to unveil a sign alongside the highway.

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.

The Johnny Cash Heritage Festival in Dyess takes place Thursday through Saturday, October 19-21.  In this interview, KASU News Director Johnathan Reaves talks with the Director of the Arkansas State University Heritage Sites Dr. Ruth Hawkins to learn why this year's celebration of Johnny Cash turned from just a music festival to more of a symposium/music festival.  Click on the Listen button to hear more.  

A concert in Little Rock, from a musician at the top of his field, has been cancelled under pressure from Mayor Mark Stodola. The incumbent mayor worried that a concert held by the rapper from Memphis posed too much risk to public safety.

Ellis “CeDell” Davis, an Arkansas blues musician known for his slide guitar playing, died Wednesday night at the age of 91. The Helena native and long-time Pine Bluff resident had been in and out of hospitals in recent weeks due to heart related complications. Health problems dogged him throughout his life but also gave birth to the sound for which he became known.

Rockabilly Pioneer Sonny Burgess Dies In Arkansas At 88

Aug 21, 2017
Sonny Burgess
Colinedward828 / Wikimedia Commons

When Henry Boyce entered kindergarten, he instantly befriended a boy named Payton. The two rode bikes, went fishing, and on occasion stayed the night together.

Hidden within Payton’s house was an array of expensive musical instruments and equipment. Payton’s father, Sonny Burgess, didn’t allow the boys to play with the equipment. Burgess didn’t play music in those days, but Boyce knew he was a musician. He saw his name on records in their house.

What's The Skinny

Jul 28, 2017

A decisive early Friday vote on a GOP-led Obamacare "skinny" repeal comes up short. Why Arkansas's Senators voted for the failed measure amidst evidence that state public opinion may not be quite on their side.

Levon Helm
Kevin Kresse

A fundraising campaign has been launched to create a permanent memorial in east Arkansas for Levon Helm. The legendary drummer and singer, who was best known for his work with The Band, grew up in the Phillips County community of Turkey Scratch, helping his family pick cotton.

Plans are to finish restoring the sharecropper's house his family lived in, which has been moved to the nearby town of Marvell. A statue of Helm is also to be completed and placed downtown.

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