What do Johnny Cash, Louis Jordan, Conway Twitty, Howlinâ€™ Wolf, Charlie Rich, and Al Green have in common? In addition to becoming musical legends in various genres, each of these trailblazers was born or lived in eastern Arkansas. The regionâ€™s roster of â€œmusical alumniâ€ is impressive: William Warfield; Levon Helm; Albert King; Sister Rosetta Tharpe; John Weston, Charlie Rich; Robert McFerrin, Sr.; Sonny Boy Williamson; and Sonny Burgess.
Music plays an important part in the history and culture of eastern Arkansas. Here are a few ways to delve into the areaâ€™s musical past.
Visit the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame
Located in Pine Bluff, the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame celebrates Arkansans who made an impact on the field of entertainment. Visitors are greeted by an animatronic Johnny Cash when entering the facility. Exhibits include artifacts, costumes and personal memorabilia of the museumâ€™s inductees, including Cash, literary powerhouse John Grisham, actors Billy Bob Thornton and Mary Steenburgen, and composer William Grant Still. The Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame is located inside the Pine Bluff Convention Center at 1 Convention Center Plaza. To learn more about the facility, visit www.ArkansasEntertainersHallofFame.com.
Drive along Rock â€˜Nâ€™ Roll Highway 67
In 2009, sections of US Highway 67 were designated as â€œthe Rock â€˜Nâ€™ Roll Highway.â€ The moniker refers to the nightclubs, roadhouses and theaters that played host to up-and-coming musicians in the 1950s and 60s. On any given weekend, you could find Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino or Jerry Lee Lewis performing at one of the many establishments. Most of the entertainment venues are now gone, but signage along the roadway points out the sites and the historical significance of the area.
Visit Sites along the Arkansas Delta Music Trail
The Arkansas Delta Music Trail: Sounds from the Soil and Soul is a series of interpretive wayside signs are located throughout 15 counties of the Arkansas Delta. The signs give background information on legendary musicians, performers, and important musical sites. Even wondered why B.B. King refers to his beloved guitar as Lucille? Visit the town of Twist and youâ€™ll find a sign marking the spot where King made that life-altering decision. Other signs are located in Dyess, Tyronza, West Memphis, Brinkley, Marianna, Turkey Scratch, Helena-West Helena, and near McGehee. More signs will be placed throughout the Arkansas Delta in the future. Arkansas Delta Byways, one of Arkansasâ€™s official tourism associations, oversees the project. You can learn more at www.deltabyways.com/trails-tours/music-heritage-trail.dot.
Attend a Music Festival
The best way to experience music in eastern Arkansas is at one of the areaâ€™s many music festivals. The Depot Days Festival in Newport is dedicated to the musical pioneers that played along the famed Rock â€˜Nâ€™ Roll Highway 67 in northeast Arkansas. The fall event, normally held in mid-September, has featured legendary performers such as Ace Cannon, Sonny Burgess, and Ronnie McDowell. Historic Helena hosts no less than four musical festivals each year, including the 2nd annual Arkansas Delta Rockabilly Festival, slated for May 12, 2012. This yearâ€™s lineup includes the Kentucky Headhunters, Asleep at the Wheel, Stan Perkins and D.J. Fontana, and Ace Cannon. Helena also hosts one of The Natural Stateâ€™s preeminent musical events, the King Biscuit Blues Festival. Celebrating 27 years in 2012, â€œthe Biscuitâ€ is known for performances by legendary musicians such as Taj Mahal, B.B. King, Dr. John, and Buddy Guy, along with up-and-coming performers from a variety of musical genres. The 2012 dates are Oct. 4-6. Plans are also underway for the 2nd annual Johnny Cash Music Festival, tentatively slated for early October. The first event, held in 2011, raised over $300,000 for Arkansas State Universityâ€™s planned restoration of Cashâ€™s boyhood home in Dyess. Cashâ€™s friends and family, including daughter Roseanne, son John Carter, George Jones, and Kris Kristofferson, performed at the event and offered personal stories about â€œThe Man in Black.â€ Information on music festivals throughout The Natural State can be found at www.Arkansas.com/events.
Sit in for a Taping of â€œKing Biscuit Timeâ€
The Peabody-award winning â€œKing Biscuit Timeâ€ is the longest-running daily blues radio show in the United States. First broadcast in November 1941 on KFFA-Radio in Helena, the show featured future blues legends Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Lockwood, Jr. In the seven decades since, former listeners and renowned artists B.B. King and Levon Helm have touted the broadcast as an early musical influence. â€œSunshineâ€ Sonny Payne has served as the programâ€™s host since 1951. Payne, a former bass player for the likes of Tex Ritter, Harry James and Ted Williams, has become a blues legend himself, earning membership in the Blues Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame. Payne broadcasts â€œKing Biscuit Timeâ€ weekdays from 12:15-12:45 p.m. at the Delta Cultural Center Visitors Center, located at 141 Cherry Street in historic downtown Helena. Visitors are welcome to watch the show and are often asked to be part of the broadcast. Daily broadcasts are streamed worldwide via the radio stationâ€™s website. The showâ€™s broadcasts during the King Biscuit Blues Festival legendary and include the â€œwhoâ€™s whoâ€ of the blues stratosphere. Find out more about â€œKing Biscuit Timeâ€ at www.deltaculturalcenter.com/exhibitions/visitors_center.aspx#king.
Explore Regional Museums
Many museums throughout eastern Arkansas pay homage to the men and women from the area that made their musical mark on the world. Brinkley native Louis Jordan became a sensation in the 1940s and 50s as a bandleader, musician, songwriter and performer, and earning him the titles â€œthe Father of Rhythm and Bluesâ€ and â€œKing of the Jukebox.â€ The Central Delta Depot Museum (www.cddm.org) in his hometown maintains a permanent exhibit dedicated to Jordan and his career. The St. Francis County Museum (http://www.sfcmuseum.org) in Forrest City features information and memorabilia belonging to Charlie Rich, who was born in nearby Colt. Rich crossed musical genres, including country, rock â€˜nâ€™ roll, blues and gospel. In historic Helena, youâ€™ll find the Delta Cultural Center (www.DeltaCulturalCenter.com), a museum dedicated to the history of the Arkansas Delta, including its music. In addition to being home to â€œKing Biscuit Timeâ€ radio show, the DCC is home to Delta Sounds, an interactive, state-of-the-art area dedicated to the music of the Arkansas Delta, including blues, gospel and rockabilly. Youâ€™ll find personal memorabilia from some of the musicians who called the region home, including Conway Twittyâ€™s high school yearbook, when he was known by his given name, Harold Jenkins. The Rock â€˜Nâ€™ Roll Highway 67 Museum, located inside the Newport Economic Development Commission office in Newport, features memorabilia and vintage photos from the nightclubs, juke joints, and theaters that were located along U.S. 67 in northeast Arkansas and hosted musical legends Conway Twitty, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis during their early careers. The museum is open to the public but continues to be a â€œwork in progress.â€ Interested individuals can phone 870-523-1009 for more information.
Take a musical tour of eastern Arkansas. Grab some music, jump in your vehicle and sing out loudâ€¦and learn why music is the â€œheartbeatâ€ of this rhythmic region.